There was a time in England when desperate lovers fled their families, racing to cross the Scottish border where, by simply declaring themselves as husband and wife before three witnesses, they would be happily coupled in a "Scotch marriage."
W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) used this device and the mercenary marital tactics of the upper classes to construct the seldom performed "Engaged." The production at the Knightsbridge Theatre doesn't have the richly nuanced delicacy of A Noise Within's in 1995. Instead, director Karesa McElheny opts for energetic posturing and overblown emoting that doesn't always mesh well. But Marc Hart as the often engaged Cheviot embues his comical swishiness with a certain charm.
Set in 1877, Cheviot's friend Belvawney (Christian Noble) is fleeing to Scotland to marry Belinda (Piper Henry) with Cheviot tagging along. Circumstances force the trio to seek shelter in a cottage on the border of Scotland and England. In due time, Cheviot has become engaged to two women and Belinda's fiance (Andreas Renell) turns up in a murderous rage. Attempting to protect Belvawney, Cheviot declares that he is Belinda's husband and she concurs, unaware of the nuances of Scottish marital laws.
The rest of this romp concerns what side of the border Cheviot and Belinda were on, who is married to whom and who shall marry whom, with the varied couples computing the capital gain involved in each possible partnering. This may be marriage, but "business is business."
McElheny miscalculates by exaggerating minor roles and by using musical interludes that detract from the general flow. As the three Scottish Lowlanders, Bonnie MacBird, Laura Russell and Stan Freitag speak a brogue thicker than Pasadena summer smog. Noble's Belvawney loses much sympathy with his dastardly snarlings.
Yet despite this production's faults, Gilbert's brutal cynicism and snippy social commentary shine through, aided admirably by Hart's over-the-top fop, making one wish that Gilbert had devoted more time to farce and less time to operettas.
* "Engaged," Knightsbridge Theatre, Braley Building, 35 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 20. $15. (626) 440-0821. Running time: 2 hours.