Definitely grab a sweater and see The Countess performed by the Washington Stage Guild at Arena Stage at 14th & T Streets, NW. The play, by Gregory Murphy, is about the events leading up to the 1853 breakup of influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin’s marriage to Effie Gray, and the role of John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the pre-Raphaelite movement, which advocated a return to artistic purity. Ruskin probably is best known for defending a libel suit against James Whistler, which is chronicled in the 1992 book A Pot of Paint. Ironically, Ruskin championed the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and invited Millais to spend the summer with him and his wife in the Scottish highlands. In this day and age, the events in the play would provide ample tabloid fodder. Actress Sunshine Capelletti, who plays wife Effie, looks every bit the part of the pale, exotic auburn-haired beauty idealized in pre-Raphaelite painting and steals the show.
The focus is on the acting. The WSC doesn’t have the budget of the more established regional theatre companies. The actors make do with costumes that don’t look entirely “1850s.” There’s only one set. Yet, they pull it off splendidly. It's a shame that the theatre was only 1/3 full this Friday evening. Seating is open, so arrive early. We had the front-row. If you go to the theatre only once between now and February 4, this is the play to see.