Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Our Betters, W. Somerset Maugham’s fiery romantic dramedy about the invasion of sly social-climbing American heiresses into British society. The fifth play in the third season of Asolo Rep’s five-year American Character Project illuminates a sect of wealthy, early 20th-century American women who yearned for the pomp and circumstance – and parties – of the British nobility. Directed by Asolo Rep’s producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards, Our Betters opens Friday, March 13, 2015 at 8pm and runs through Sunday, April 19 at Asolo Rep, with previews Wednesday, March 11 and Thursday, March 12 at 8pm.
In early 20th-century England, broke British aristocrats desperately needed money to maintain their ornate estates, and wealthy American women desperately wanted the prestige of marrying well. After marrying a baronet, American hardware heiress Lady Pearl Grayston appears to have everything a girl could want – a posh title, a throng of adoring lovers, and the crème de la crème of British society, including a princess and a duchesse, at her beck and call – but she wants more. When Pearl’s little sister, Bessie, crosses the pond to join her sister’s enviably glamorous life and find a noble husband of her own, she is unprepared for the scandal that is about to erupt behind closed manor doors.
“Brimming with dynamic and passionate women of position, prestige and wealth, Our Betters reveals how they prevailed in a society with limited options for women,” said Michael Donald Edwards. “One of the most thrilling elements of directing this piece is the opportunity to look at it as a contemporary play – a new play, set in the period – rather than a revival. The discussion about women and their role in society, the workplace, and in politics, is far from over. It is my hope that our production sparks that conversation in our community.”
In the U.S., author and playwright W. Somerset Maugham is best known for his novels, including Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ale, and The Razor’s Edge. Throughout his career, Maugham also found great success as a playwright, penning such revered theatrical works as The Constant Wife and Our Betters, which premiered on Broadway in 1917 and was adapted into a 1933 film. Asolo Rep worked closely with the playwright’s estate to create an abridged two-act version of the original play and is thrilled to present this brand new production to the Sarasota community.