‘The Robber Bridegroom’ now playing

Betsy Milarcik

Villanova Theatre concludes its season with “The Robber Bridegroom,” an uncommon musical about love and robbery in the pre-Civil War era South. This production mimics the same carefree Mississippi that it depicts: both the play and the setting are easygoing and have a simple but sturdy appeal. The play, written by Alfred Uhry, is directed by Peter Reynolds.

The robber bridegroom goes by the name of Jamie Lockhart. After Lockhart rescues the affluent planter, Clemment Musgrove, from a local thief, Musgrove expresses his gratitude by inviting Lockhart back to his home. To Musgrove, Lockhart seems to be every bit the respectable young gentleman, but in reality, Lockhart is the notorious “robber of the woods.” Lockhart’s double lives collide with one another when he meets, and robs, Musgrove’s beautiful daughter Rosamund while disguised as the robber. Even though the two meet again under Musgrove’s roof, each fails to recognize the other. The case of mistaken identities that follows leads to a series of confusing mishaps that is muddled even further by the interference of Rosamund’s not-so-loving stepmother, Salome, whose hatred for her stepdaughter provides many a plot point.

The intricate story draws many different genres together: a romance develops between the hero and the leading lady, and Salome’s interference introduces some danger and drama into the tale. Despite this diversity of topics, the play treats all aspects of the plot from the perspective of comedy. Hatred, crime and death are all brushed off with a joke and a song. The comedy that fuels this play is hokey. The humor does not exist to get the audience laughing so much as to simply make the performance and the atmosphere light. The resulting musical is merely cute and, at times, corny.

The most beautiful moments of the play occur when, for a rare moment, all the jesting comes to a halt and the characters are explored from a more dramatic angle. The early love scenes are particularly moving, especially the musical number, “Deeper in the Woods.” During this interlude, the company joins in song while the play’s primary young lovers wander through the “trees” of the forest, or rather through the cast members who are posed as trees. The scene is haunting and tender, but all too quickly does the story return to its familiar, joking manner. The final result is a play brimming with Southern charm but lacking considerable depth.

Such a script might only appeal to certain audiences, but everyone can appreciate a well-performed play. Charles Illingworth IV is appropriately charismatic as Lockhart, and his winning performance is well-matched by undergraduate Janet McWilliams’s audacious Rosamund. The true breakout performance comes from music director Kevin Casey and his bluegrass band. All of the show’s musical numbers are performed by this small bluegrass group that is stationed in a loft at the back of the stage, making the musicians visible through the entire performance. The music adds authenticity to the production’s overall Southern atmosphere, transforming the songs into another piece of the performance’s regional allure.

Overall, “The Robber Bridegroom” is a solid performance of an average play. This show is perfect for anyone interested in a toe-tapping tune or a good story.

“The Robber Bridegroom” is running through April 22 in Vasey Hall Theatre.