“Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded” — adapted and directed by senior Maddie Mondeaux from the novel of the same name by Samuel Richardson — ran in Studio Theatre this past weekend from Thursday, May 7 to Saturday, May 9. Throughout the play, which focuses on the aggressive entitlement men have towards women and society’s support of this dynamic, Pamela tries to hold on to her voice even through captivity. Mondeaux successfully draws haunting parallels to Pamela’s helpless state and the struggle many women endure today to find their own way to speak out against the constraints of society.
The use of the ensemble to give Mr. B (played by sophomore Emma Lister) power made for great blocking, especially in the scenes where Mr. B forced himself on Pamela (played by freshman Jayel Gant). Her utter isolation was most prominent when her fellow servants aided Mr. B in his violations. This power dynamic is especially disconcerting when trying to decide if Ann (also played by Emma Lister) is secretly Mr. B in disguise. This added a sense of foreboding to her comedic relief, especially when Pamela goes to bed with Ann in the same room.
The costumes for each character were well defined, helping the actors to separate their characters and allowing for seamless onstage quick changes. Mrs. Jewkes and Mrs. Jarvis were played by senior Rebecca Gonshak, and the characters’ shared vest was a cleverly constructed piece, reflecting the contradictory nature of the two women fulfilling a similar role. Mr. B’s silver brocade jacket was a beautiful display of his wealth and power. These onstage quick changes added to the uncertainty of Ann’s identity: is she a hapless servant, or Mr. B in disguise?
The lighting was a major tool used to emphasize dramatic moments and to establish the quickly changing locations on an uncomplicated set. While the set’s simplicity was necessary for these quick movements, it left something to be desired. I wanted the set to compare with the clever and grandiose costumes of Mr. B.
While I appreciated the discretion of the director in adapting only the most relevant events, I wish Mondeaux had used more of her own words in writing the script. By directly lifting so much from the novel, the language became repetitious and too heavy handed in its emphasis of virtue and youth. Pamela’s father’s monologue, delivered by junior Holden Meier, was ridiculous and slightly comedic in its overemphasis of virtue, but the later, continued return to virtue, virtue, virtue left me desperately wanting a thesaurus. This helped Pamela’s monologues bled together and it sounded as if she had memorized her letters and was reciting them to the audience, which contrasted with the impressive display of caricature from the ensemble.
Ultimately, the ending disappointed many, but I loved it and found it very fitting. It’s not meant to be satisfactory. Pamela had her voice robbed and Mr. B’s own voice put in its place. Pamela was so utterly alone, her only mode of survival was to read Mr. B’s obsession as charming, his intentions stemming from his love for Pamela. Unable to escape her prison, Pamela did what was necessary to survive: she accepted the falsehoods that had been screamed down at her from all directions. In the novel this is a happy ending and Pamela’s virtue is indeed rewarded; in Mondeaux’s production, it is a compromise in exchange for survival.