Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2002.

Dennis Krausnick and a familiar group of actors have teamed once again to bring two tiny gems of Edith Wharton’s writing to the stage. Roman Fever and The Other Two both hold a magnifying glass to social convention. In a world that is all surface and appearance, such a close-up glimpse brings surprising, often achingly funny results.

The Other Two of the title are the previous two husbands of the newly remarried Alice Waythorn. They are both still very much alive, and living side-by-side with Mr. & Mrs. Waythorn in New York City. Reginald Waythorn, who has never been married before, is surprised to discover that he has acquired his wife’s two previous husbands the way most men acquire in-laws. The gentle humor as the Waythorns, the “other two,” and indeed all of New York society, learns to deal with the new situations posed by divorce and remarriage is delightful. Don’t look for grand drama here, this is a study in miniature of four people and how they redefine themselves under new circumstances.

Corinna May plays the endlessly adaptable Alice as a proper and docile 19th century woman. The action of the play is set in 1904, but, despite her bold life-style, Alice’s thinking has not yet moved into the 20th century. Ethan Flower seems her perfect mate as the quiet, befuddled Reginald, and yet you understand exactly what she saw in dashing, penniless husband #2, Gus Varick, as played by Andrew Borthwick-Leslie; and in husband #1, a middle-class gentleman named Abraham Haskett, enacted with touching coarseness by Mark Woollett.

Krausnick has decided to make Edith Wharton (Diane Prusha) a character in this play as well, using her as a way to focus our attention on the social fumblings of this little band of folk thrust together by circumstance and trying ever-so-hard to follow the rules, even though they have to make them up as they go along.

Roman Fever is a two-character play in which old friends Alida Slade (May) and Grace Ansley (Prusha) sit on a terrace overlooking the Roman forum and reminisce while their daughters gad about the Eternal City as they once did, decades before. All is not what it seems and on this particular day secrets are revealed which substantially alter our interpretation of these characters’ past, as well as their present and future relations. It is a lovely piece of writing and here Krausnick is very faithful to Wharton’s original, which contained a great deal of dialogue.

This is a very comfortable partnership. Over the past quarter century Krausnick has adapted more than 30 of Wharton’s works, and May, Prusha, Flower, and Borthwick-Leslie have appeared in many of the Wharton/Krausnick works that I have had the pleasure to see. The salon in the Spring Lawn mansion bears an uncanny resemblance to the drawing room at The Mount where Shakespeare & Company first started presenting these Wharton’s works. Director Normi Noel also directed another Wharton/Krausnick piece An International Episode last year. So you are in good hands when you buy a ticket to this show.

The Wharton One-Acts – Roman Fever & The Other Two run in repertory through September 1 at Shakespeare & Company’s Spring Lawn Theatre on Kemble Street in Lenox. The shows run two hours with one intermission, during which lovely cookies and cold drinks are served. The shows are suitable for the whole family, although they will probably bore younger children. Call the box office at 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002

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