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A CurtainUp Review
Now 100 years old, The House of Mirth is one of Wharton's most famous works. A novel of manners, it chronicles Lily Bart's struggle against artifice and societal constraints. Lily is poor but socially well-connected. She tries to land a rich husband despite her meager resources. She also tries to keep up with her much richer friends, but cannot, and amasses large gambling and clothing debts.
The weak Lily is unable to compete financially with her peers which drives her to seek help from a friend's husband who expects more than gratitude in return. Her true love, Lawrence Selden, is too poor to marry. When her friends begin to gossip, she becomes an outcast and is forced to make her way as a secretary and then a milliner. When she falls, she falls hard.
Rachel Dickstein's adaptation at the Ohio, is a beautiful if languorous show. She's captured the feel and spirit of the novel while preserving the theatricality of the piece. Wharton's words are nicely augmented with surreal images and graceful movements (akin to dances). At times the imagery is at odds with Lily's scheming, but this only serves to highlight her quiet desperation.
The play's progression is slow and stately -- a little too much so. The dreamy landscape slows down the plot development, and many minor characters appear only in passing. This is reasonable enough but, given the small cast, the doubling and trebling of parts leads to some confusion. Often it's hard to tell who exactly is being portrayed. And at two hours and forty minutes, the play sorely needs some tightening.
The shortcomings notwithsdanding, Dickstein's directorial scope is grand, and the adaptation is first-rate. The set, lighting and sound blend together in a seamless-ness that's very rare these days.
The empty stage is augmented only with large wrought-iron gates. Scene shifts are dictated by changes in light and sound. The costumes are pseudo-period; the men are dressed in the suits of the age, but the women are dressed only in long flowing underskirts and corsets (and the occasional hat), making the corsets the visual centerpiece. No doubt that's intentional, a comment on the constrained nature of the women. Indeed, at the very end of the play, Lily sheds her corsets and skirts and undoes her hair, finally free of all the trappings.
Paula McGonagle is both charming and heartbreaking as Lily Bart. She has a magnetism that's hard to resist. The rest of the cast is also to be commended for their versatility. Except for Andy Paris as Lawrence Selden, the company members play three to four parts each. All have a physical grace and rapport that fits the play's surrealism very well.
Wharton's words which recreated the shape of an age here create a wholly different, but complementary, shape. The Innocents represents an inventive new way to look at turn-of-the-century society and at Edith Wharton.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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