Monday, April 23, 2018

CT Theater Review: The Age of Innocence -- Hartford stage

Sierra Boggess (front), Sara Norton, Deirdre Madigan. Photo: T Charles Erickson
The Age of Innocence
By Edith Wharton
Adapted for the stage by Douglas McGrath
Directed by Doug Hughes
Harttford Stage
Through May 6

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Boyd Gaines and Sierra Bogess head an excellent production of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, adapted for the stage by Douglas McGrath (this is a co-production with the McCarter Theatre Center).  It's a disturbing love story set in the Victorian era, where the rules of upper-class society can be as stifling as the corsets worn by the women (lovely period costumes are designed by Linda Cho).

Gaines is an older version of himself -- Newland Archer (Andrew Veenstra), a young attorney who marries innocent May Welland (Helen Cespedes) despite his growing attraction and feelings for the exciting Countess Ellen Olenska (Boggess), who has returned to New York following a scandal with her husband, whom she has left in Europe. Society won't tolerate another scandal, but the dream about how they might be together. The story won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 and remains relevant in 2018 because it is more about human nature and relationships than it is about the time period. People don't live in a bubble, Newland says. Actions affect others. How do you choose between love and honor? That applies today very well.

What Are the Highlights?
A sumptuous production, meticulously directed by Doug Hughes -- even better than the 1993 film that starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. A simple turn by a character can change the scene from the street to an apartment setting (as beautifully designed by John Lee Beatty, who manages to create a simple design that invokes the elegant and extravagant look of the time period. A pianist (Yan Li) blends into the scenery to provide accompaniment for an impromptu duet.

Cespedes mesmerizes as a dichotomy of May which is at once an innocent and naive, helpless female while at the same an intelligent woman fully capable of protecting herself. the chemistry between Bogess and Veenstra is intense and we feel their frustration and pain. Best yet is Gaines, who reflecting back on the events of his life, rounds out the character with wisdom and humor. Also making us laugh is Darrie Lawrence who plays May's grandmother and family matriarch Mrs. Manson Mingott. Quite delightful.

What Are the Lowlights?
None. Go see it.

More information:

McGrath is a personal favorite. He received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, one of the best books for a "jukebox" style musical on Broadway. His first film as a writer and director was his adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow -- another favorite, which I think is better than the novel.

Hughes, former artistic director at Long Wharf, also is a favorite director. He won the 2005 Tony Award for Doubt and received a Tony Award nomination for the play Frozen, which is one of the most riveting productions I ever have seen. He also directed Ayad Akhtar’s Junk on Broadway this season -- look for more nominations there.

Performances of The Age of Innocence continue through May 6 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church st., Hartford, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets: www.hartfordstage.org; 860-527-5151.

Audio Described Performance— 2 pm Saturday, April 28 for patrons who are blind or have low vision — free service with admission.

Additional casting:
Deirdre Madigan, Haviland Morris, Josh Salt, Tony Ward, Nick Wyman. Haviland Morris

Sara Norton, Dan Owens, Sara Schwab, Alessandro Gian Viviano, students from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, are cast in the Ensemble.

Additional credits:
Lighting Designer Ben Stanton; Sound Design and Original Music by Mark Bennett

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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