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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review

Glimpses of the Moon
What may this mean
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Hamlet, Act I, scene iv -- an apt inspiration for the title of Edith Wharton's novel adapted for the company housed in the author's former estate and dedicated to her spirit and work as well as Shakespeare's.

It rose for them --their honeymoon-- over the waters of a lake so famed as the scene of romantic raptures that they were rather proud of not having been afraid to choose it as the setting of their own— the opening lines of Glimpses of the Moon.
Nick and Susy Lansing, the honeymooners in question are, like Lily Bart of Wharton's better known novel The House of Mirth, fringe members of the idle rich American social set of the Gilded Age the author knew so well. Both are genteely poor but well connected and charming enough to be welcome guests in the luxurious homes of their wealthy friends.

Nick is a Harvard dropout with a passion for Oriental archeology and unrealized ambitions to write. Since Susy and Nick both knock about with the same kind of people it is inevitable that they should meet -- and be attracted to each other. Their empty purses, however, preclude more than a companionable interlude. And yet when one of Susy's "patrons" jealously demands an end to their friendship, the practical and resourceful Susy comes up with a plan for them to have the best of all worlds, at least for a while. The idea is that two can play the live-off-the-rich game even better than one. Besides continued invitation to "house sit" they'll have enough gifts to support them through an extended honeymoon. Susy's plan also decrees that each shall be free to pursue a more socially desirable mate.

What neither Susy or Nick anticipate, but the audience suspects almost instantly, is that attraction and companionship will deepen into genuine love. And while it's not all smooth sailing to the happy ending, when that ending does come it's hardly a surprise. While Lily Bart comes to a bad end in House of Mirth, her counterpart in Glimpses of the Moon gets her chance to reach for the stars. The story would thus seem to be an ideal choice for this summer's tea time theatrical bill of fare in the former Wharton parlor turned theater.

While Alison Ragland's adaptation depicts the shallowness of this segment of society unfortunately neither her script, or the actors under Rebecca Holderness's direction dip deeply enough into the pools of true feeling of Wharton's characters. The sharp irony of her prose is limited to brief flashes that get lost amid the somewhat strange accents of Americans trying to sound like Eton graduates. In moving the time frame from the 1920s of the novel to 1913 and 1914, Ms. Ragland has introduced an interesting parallel between the mannered social discourse of the characters and the stylistically mannered Tango that was in vogue at that time. In an earlier version of the play I saw during its Fall '98 tryout, the tango was a nice bit of background business. During the course of what looks like extensive revisions, the adapter's clever comparative device has become too clever. With everybody in the cast of eight intermittently partnering up to, stylistic device overwhelms substance. And while the actors Tango competently enough, anyone who's ever seen a professional Tango exhibition is likely to wish the players had been allowed to focus on the richness of the source, rather than to invest so much energy on the dance interludes.

Christine Calfas gives the most nuanced performance as Susy Lansing and there's good chemistry between her and Andrew Borthwick-Leslie who plays Nick Lansing. The rest of the cast lacks the dimension one expects from Shakespeare & Company. Much of this stems from the direction, which as in some (but not all) past productions in this time slot and place seems to deliberately go for high jinx humor. Michael F. Toomey, particularly, hams things up in his various roles (butler, cuckolded husband, tango dancer, etc.). He does get lots of laughs, but one wonders what Mrs. Wharton would make of this tomfoolery if she were still in residence.

The staging while limited to a few simple props is too busy and frantic. Endless movement of a screen which serves little purpose , the constant rushing in and out of the parlor theater -- it all adds up to the opposite of a seamless production. If you return to this venue later in the season for the reprise of last year's big little hit Private Eyes, you'll see how well the intimacy of this small space and the use of just a few props can work. The scheduled premiere of another Wharton adaptation, this time of her more typically tragic novel, Summer, is likely to showcase this Company's ability to do well by Mrs. Wharton's work.

Its drawbacks notwithstanding, this Glimpses of the Moon like listening to a concert while picnicking on the lawn at Tanglewood should be judged in the light of the atmosphere and experience -- especially with these opportunities of seeing a literary lion's work performed in the lion's den slated to end when Shakespeare & Company moves to another home.

Adapted from Edith Wharton by Alison Ragland
Directed by Rebecca Holderness
With Andrew Borthwick-Leslie, Christine Clfas, Antonia Feeland, Bob Lohbauer, Celia Madeoy, Michael F. Toomey, Elyce Cataldo alternating withSophie Tanenbaum, and Melissa Quirk.
Costumes: Govane Lobhauer
Set/Props: Gary Mitchell, MattKuriloff
Sound: Jessica Murrow
Lighting: Stephen Ball
Wharton Theatre, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox, MA (413/637-3353)
6/18/99-9/04/99; opening 9/26/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 30th performance

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