Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October, 1998
Shakespeare & Company does many things well, but the two things it must do well to survive are stage Shakespeare and adapt Edith Wharton to the stage. In “Glimpses of the Moon” they have done the latter very well, but Edith Wharton, no matter how well adapted, isn’t William Shakespeare, nor was she a playwright. Her light touch and focus on the wealthy at the turn of the last century make for slight theatre in the overall scheme of things.
“Glimpses of the Moon” is adapted by Alison Ragland from the 1922 novel of the same name by Wharton. It concerns the foolish arrangement that Susy Branch and Nick Lansing make when they impulsively decide to marry. Nick and Susy know all the right people, but don’t actually have any money themselves and so are forced to sponge endlessly off of their wealthy acquaintances in order to continue living in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Although they marry for love, part of their agreement is that they are free to part if either of them finds someone to whom marriage will mean more money and social status. Needless to say, through a misunderstanding, they part and drift miserably through the world of riches without the one person who can make them truly rich.
Like Nick and Susy, director/choreographer Rebecca Holderness has managed to stage a production that is beautiful to look at with no set to speak of but some columns, some white panels, four chairs and occasionally a table or two. She is helped tremendously in accomplishing this by the gorgeous costumes designed by Govane Lohbauer. I swear that I could live very happily in those beautiful clothes for the rest of my life – whether or not they bear any resemblance to what the wealthy actually wore in 1913 and 1914. It is not just the designs, which are unique and fascinating, but also Lohbauer’s use of wonderful fabric that moves with the actors to help create a feeling of time, place, and character.
Holderness and her fine cast capture Wharton’s world perfectly. Christine Calfas and Andrew Borthwick-Leslie are perfect as Susy and Nick. Calfas is extraordinarily beautiful and appealing as Susy, and Borthwick-Leslie captures Nick’s pseudo-pomposity superbly. I was certainly rooting for both of them to see the error of their ways.
The directorial stroke of genius that makes the whole thing work is the tango. There could be no two more incongruous words than “Wharton” and “tango”. The tango is a dance which originated in the brothels and lower class bars of Buenos Aires – a clash between the cultures of Creole Argentina, Africa, and Europe. It came into the favor of Argentinian aristocrats, who took it to Europe. By the time in which “Glimpses of the Moon” is set it was very much the fashion in the western world. Holderness frames her production within the boundaries of the tango – using the “close, but not too close” sensuality of the dance as a metaphor for Nick and Susy’s relationship.
Ragland and Holderness have also created two mute characters named only as the Man in Black (Chamaio Cheyenne-Rindge) and the Woman in Black (Celia Madeoy) whose cheif function is to dance a sensuous tango while moving the props and furniture between scenes. Madeoy is listed as Assistant Tango Choreographer, and special thanks is given in the program to Dan Weltner of the Sandra Cameron Dance Center for his tango lessons. Between Holderness, Madeoy, and Weltner they have created an excellent milieu for the the action of Wharton’s narrative.
“Glimpses of the Moon” produced by Shakespeare & Company runs through October 18 at the Stables Theatre at Edith Wharton’s mansion The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox. Call 413-637-3353 for tickets and information. Please be aware that there is little heat in the Stables Theatre, so patrons are advised to dress warmly if the weather is chilly.
Copyright Gail M. Burns 1998