Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2001.
In this, the opening show in Shakespeare & Company’s new Spring Lawn Theatre, I was struck by the amazing coincidence that has provided the company with a performance space almost identical to the salon at The Mount which they have used as their Wharton Theatre for many years. The blessed difference is that there is much better ventilation at Spring Lawn. The unfortunate similarity is that there are only two single occupant unisex restrooms available.
I happened to see the One-Acts on the most beautiful summer day that God had blessed Berkshire County with in a long time, and this added greatly to the charm of the Spring Lawn space, which is filled with large arched windows and French doors through which the verdant grounds of the mansion and the surrounding hills can be seen. I tried to imagine the space with wild winds and rains whipping around outside as a back drop, or large drifts of snow, and I have to admit that it would have made a difference to the shows, especially the first piece An International Episode. Shakespeare & Company will have to deal with the fact that this new space makes Mother Nature a member of the cast and a primary set designer for any show they stage there.
The two plays presented as this year’s one-acts team are delightful, entertaining, and beautifully acted and costumed. In fact there is a lovely exhibit of costumes from earlier Wharton-era plays in the Great Hall at Springlawn, which allows you to get up close and personal with some of the practical period wonders Shakespeare & Company’s designers whip up on a regular basis. The only problem with this year’s one-acts is that the first piece An International Episode is not actually a one-act play. It is a thinly disguised three-act play and should either have been cut down to one-act size or presented alone with an intermission.
The result of this problem is that this afternoon of “one-acts” lasts three hours. Psychologically, that is way to long for an entertainment billed as an afternoon of one-acts. When I go to see a Shakespearean play or a work by Eugene O’Neill or Shaw I am prepared to sit for three hours plus, but when I go to see two “short” plays I am more in a two hour mood. And there was ample room for cutting An International Episode, delightful as it is.
One of the key delights for me was Ethan Flower’s perfect portrayal of British twit Lord Lambeth, despite his not quite perfect attempt at an English accent. The open cheerful innocence and dim-wittedness evident in his face at all times made him as appealing as the dogs and sheep Lord Lambeth prized above all people, possessions, and social rank and obligations. Flower may not have sounded British at all times, but he WAS British at all times, and that made all the difference.
Kate Holland was all American independence as his beloved Betsy Alden, and Diane Prusha was terribly funny in two small roles as the befuddled ugly American Myrtle Lemon, and as the priggish Duchess of Bayswater. Corinna May rather got on my nerves as Katherine Westgate, but that was partly the fault of the writing. Her character’s repetitive whining about the sociological differences between American and British society circa 1875 was where Dennis Krausnick’s adaptation of Henry James could have stood some prudent editing. John Rahal Sarrouf’s world weary portrayal of Percy Beaumont, and his impeccable British accent, became much more impressive when compared with his hilarious star turn as harassed museum curator Miles Hackett in the second piece The Rembrandt.
The Rembrandt was just howlingly funny, which is saying a lot since there were a good many hearty laughs in An International Episode as well. Had we all not been so fatigued by the lengthy running time of the first piece I think there would have been tears of laughter in evidence as Sarrouf dealt with a hideously ugly, unsigned painting peddled by a penniless widow (Prusha) as a valuable Rembrandt. Luckily we had all been fortified with very tasty (and free!) iced tea, lemonade and gourmet cookies at intermission, so we had the strength to go on and last through this true one-act.
I suggest that you go to see the Wharton One-Acts with the attitude that you are stepping back in time to the turn of the last century. You will be entertained by period humor in a gorgeous mansion and enjoy a lovely tea in the salon during intermission. Don’t plan to hit the shops in Lenox after the show because you won’t get out until 5 p.m. and everything will be closing up for the night. There are many worse ways to spend the afternoon than in the company of James, Wharton, and this delightful team of actors.
The Shakespeare and Company (413-637-3353) production of the Wharton One-Acts: An International Episode and The Rembrandt runs through September 2 at the new Spring Lawn Theatre on Kemble Street (Rt. 7A) in Lenox. An International Episode runs about an hour and forty minutes and The Rembrandt runs about forty-five minutes with an intermission between the two plays. The total running time is about three hours. The shows are suitable for all ages, but young children would find them slow moving and tedious. Delicious free refreshments are served at intermission.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001