Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 1999

“What may this mean
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel,
Revisits 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

It is from this Shakespearean quote that Edith Wharton derived the title of her 1922 novel “The Glimpses of the Moon” which Alison Ragland has adapted for the stage at Shakespeare & Company. Hamlet has just encountered the ghost of his dead father when he asks this question. It seems hardly the quote or the scene from which Wharton might have derived as light and modern a romance as “Glimpses of the Moon” provides. Knowing the source of the title brings more depth to Wharton’s tale, seemingly a light and charming romance.

Susy Branch and Nick Lansing are relatively poor folk travelling and living off of the the noveau riche of the roaring twenties. They are madly in love, but both know that neither can provide for the other in the manner to which they have become accustomed. However, they decide to marry and be happy together until such a time as one or both find the oppotunity to make a financially and socially more advantageous match. When their split inevitably comes it does indeed horridly shake the dispositions of these two fools nature with thoughts beyond the reaches of their souls.

This is a good story. It is a good novel and when I first saw Ragland’s adaptation last summer in the Stables Theatre, I thought it was a good play. In fact, having now read the novel, I think it would make an even better movie – Nick and Susies do their wooing and undoing in some beautiful locales that just cannot be recreated on the stage.

Having enjoyed this story on the stage and on the page, it was with some trepidation that I returned to see it again, staged this time in the Wharton Theatre. I remember I called this play “a delicate bauble” in my last review, and sometimes small, fragile things lose their luster the more closely you examine them. But this bauble has survived its second close viewing well.

The original cast has reassembled, giving me once again the joy of watching the beautiful Christine Calfas play Susy, but Ragland and director Rebecca Holderness have pared the play and the roster of actors down to a bare minimum this time around. I missed the broader picture those additional characters had given of the world which Nick and Susy struggle in and against, but someone seeing the play for the first time would not miss them at all. The Wharton Theatre, literally the salon of Wharton’s Lenox mansion “The Mount”, is a much smaller space and so naturally the show had to become smaller to fit in it.

Last season I said that this play “captured Wharton’s world perfectly” (I know I did because I am quoted in the 1999 Shakespeare & Company brochure) but I had not read the novel when I made that comment and so I made it somewhat on false pretenses. Let me make it again, this time more emphatically. Ragland has lifted Wharton’s people, their lives ,and their words remarkably faithfully from the book and set them down gently and lovingly on the stage. I enjoy the grace with which she and Holderness glide the audience through this world that is just far enough off to be the stuff of costume drama and not of living memory.

The smaller scale of the show meant less room to tango this time. Ragland has used the tango, which was THE racy dance of the day, and used it as a metaphor for Nick and Susy dance through their relationship – entangled and yet formally distanced until at last they give in. There is still plenty of fine tango-ing, choreographed by Celia Madeoy, to watch, but I missed that one sexually electric couple who danced through the scene changes last year.

Calfas is enchanting, and Andrew Borthwick-Leslie is ever so proper her Nick, a man painfully aware that his lack of money and social standing reduce him to less than nothing in the eyes of the world and the opposite sex. Edith Wharton would never have approved of Robert Lohbauer as Sir Charles Strefford, aka Streffie. She would find him much too young and handsome. I found him once again to be just right.

New to the cast is Michael F. Toomey, who twirls chairs around with great gusto, and fills in playing every butler, chauffeur, waiter, and any other odd male character who comes along ably and with good humor.

There really is no set except Wharton’s salon itself, those chairs Toomey twirls, and three art deco screens which get fussed with entirely too much in an effort to convince the audience that the scene has changed.

“Glimpses of the moon” runs through September 4 at Shakespeare & Company’s Wharton Theatre at The Mount. Tea is served at intermission in Wharton’s dining room. The show runs just over 90 minutes with one intermission. Dress for the weather because the theatre is not air conditioned. Call the box office at 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999

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