By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Back in London, Effie does rebel against her frigid husband, who, it turns out, has never bothered to consummate their union. Threatened with annulment, he is forced to admit to his puritanical parents that he isn't capable of effing Effie. And anyway, he hasn't found her attractive since she was, oh, about 11 years old. The old folks' reaction is to declare Effie mentally unstable and "in need of a good hard caning."
Torture is a theme in The Countess, it turns out. Ruskin tortures his wife by denying her both respect and a hearty shag in the marital bed. Gregory Murphy tests the pain levels of theatergoers by typing two hours' worth of dreadful dialogue. The director and actors cane the patience of the ticket buyers by making Murphy's characters even more stiff and unlikable and dragging it all out like the drip-drip-drip of water torture.
And let us spare no conspirators to this failure. The costumes by Barbara Cox are garish and haphazardly constructed (the program says they were copied from period portraits, but many of them just look like bedspreads with sleeves). John Leach's lighting design belongs in a bowling alley, not a tiny theater. The opening voice-overs in both acts sound as though they were recorded at the bottom of a grave.
It's an effing disaster, start to finish, and very vexing indeed.