Form, Substance, and Social Truth

Relative Values by Noel Coward. At Circle Bar B, Friday,
September 22.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

Relative Values exposes a class-conscious society in which
appearances and formalities still reign, but are fast slipping
away. Even the butler laments the loss, saying, “comedy of manners
disappears quickly when the manners disappear.” Of course,
Crestwell is no ordinary butler; he quotes Milton and alludes to
Somerset Maugham. His dry wit, sarcastic humor, and erudite
knowledge exceed his superiors. Nevertheless, Crestwell will always
remain a butler. Social equality is a utopian idea as far as he is

The ordinary, orderly family life of the manor is usurped when
Nigel, Earl of Marshwood, announces his impending nuptials to
Miranda Frayle, a flamboyant Hollywood actress and thus his “social
inferior.” Resolved to stifle prejudice against her future
daughter-in-law, the Countess of Marshwood presents a stiff upper
lip. In the meantime, her devoted personal maid, Moxie, apparently
distraught over the wedding news, suddenly decides to quit her job
of 20 years. The discovery of her mysterious behavior is a shock to
all, but the resourceful Crestwell devises a plan to save
appearances. The ensuing scene is a pure delight: the family
members are seated in an elegant room sipping martinis in
anticipation of a dinner bell. Moxie’s transformation causes a
couple of guests to drop their jaws. Still, the conversation
continues, filled with humorous innuendos and ironic quips.

When the focus shifts to Miranda, a voluptuous platinum-blonde
Hollywood actress (Jamie Hixon), the social abyss between her and
Nigel appears unbridgeable. With a typically patronizing attitude
toward a less sophisticated American actress, the English family
reveals their pride and prejudice. Not far removed from the social
milieu of Jane Austen, the play is both a satire and a playful
comedy. The Countess of Marshwood may snub Miranda, but she is
eager for some publicity in the local newspaper on account of
Miranda’s celebrity. Opportunistic and crafty in her way, she
manipulates these means to her desired end.

Leslie Ann Story is great in the demanding role of the Countess.
David Couch makes his first acting appearance in nine years as
butler Crestwell. He charms the audience with his never-failing
straight face as he delivers witticisms one after another. Susie
Couch shows her versatility in the role of Moxie — emotionally
fragile, but honest, lovable, and ultimately vindicated. The ending
scene, with Crestwell and Moxie seated on a sofa in an affectionate
embrace, suggests the triumph of truth. Relative Values invites us
to laugh hard at other people’s follies — and our own, too.


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