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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Fanny Kemble's Lenox Address
This is one of those solo shows that could only happen in this site-specific, atmospheric setting. Though well acted, Fanny Kemble's Lenox Address, is basically an alternative to the many tours of and lectures at the area's cornucopia of magnificent mansions or, as their owners preferred to call them "cottages". That includes Ventfort Hall, the imposing Elizabethan-style mansion designed in 1893 for J. P. Morgan's sister Sarah, by the architects Rotch & Tilden.
The guest of honor is Fanny Kemble, the London-born member of a famous theatrical family who, while touring America with her father, fell in love with a Philadelphia lawyer named Pierce Butler. As proud new owner of her own Lenox cottage, The Perch, (across the street from Canyon Ranch on the street since named after her), will tell the assembled guests her side of her bitter and widely publicized divorce from Butler who, to the horror of the abolitionist and free-spirited Fanny, was also the slave-owning master of a Georgia plantation.
The fact that Kemble is an actress -- her specialty, readings from Shakespeare's plays-- gives credibility to her dramatic recitation which includes details about the marriage, her painful separation from her two little girls, her horror at the details of slavery when her husband takes her to his Georgia plantation. There's also a brief excerpt from one of her Shakespeare performances.
While the play could pass as a two-hander, thanks to Margaret Katch's presence via a brief (very brief) performance at the grand piano and her introduction of Fanny, what you get is a solo play. Director Andrew Borthwick-Leslie and Ms. Raetz do their darndest to avoid the sense of a lecture masquerading as a play. She moves from the grand stair case to the terrace, spends considerable time in the aisle between the chairs to make intense eye contact with the audience (this as well as having to crane your neck to look at her during her scenes on the staircase tends to be annoying). Kemble is passionate and a woman of admirable principles but this nevertheless remains more dramatized lecture than play. That said, walking through the great hall and the open dining room next to it and stepping out on the terrace with its view of the sweeping garden, does take you back to another day and adds yet another dimension to the experience of reliving a slice of history.
If you can't fit the play into your schedule, you might take in some of the Wednesday at 4pm lectures also held at Ventfort Hall, details of which are listed at their web site: www.gildedage.org.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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