Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco


ACT has commissioned Giles Havergal, noted director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, to adapt the Edith Wharton's 1905 novel, The House of Mirth to the stage. Mr. Havergal also directed this production. Although the production is teeming with Victorian opulence and drawing room intrigue, it comes over as very dull and talky.

I should say I am not a great Edith Wharton fan. In fact, the only adaptation I have ever liked was the Martin Scorsese film Age of Innocence, which boasts great cinematography and excellent acting by top flight stars of the British and American stage.

This play looks like an old fashioned melodrama one would have seen long ago when plays were produced in tents for middle America. It is an unsatisfying play and the fault lies in the script and in the miscasting of the leading actress, Roxanne Raja. Don't get me wrong, she is a damn good actress, but she does not make a believable Lily Bart. The character has to be tough and scheming and have a certain edge in her acting. Unfortunately, Ms. Raja did not portray any of those characteristics. She was out of her depth here.

The plot revolves around the beautiful and vivacious Lily who is very poor and wants to be rich. She has expensive tastes and she's well versed in the social ways of New York's rich society. She is approaching 30 and is invited to a country home where there will be a number of wealthy men from whom she may snare a mate. Most are dreadfully boring, but she is willing to accept that for a social position among New York's top 100 families.

Lily is sidetracked by falling for a handsome attorney who has little money but a lot of charm. She eventually visits him in his bachelor's pad in New York which no single woman would ever do in the early 1900's. A cagily social climbing man who owns the building finds out and hopes to take her for his own. He needs her to overcome the anti-Semitic social resistance that negates the wealth that he has accumulated. A series of mis-steps following this revelation causes Lily's quick decline in the social ladder of New York society.

ACT has assembled a sterling group of veteran actors to fill the roles. Some play duel parts. It was nice to see Maureen McVerry back trotting the boards. She was marvelous in the duel role of Carry Fisher and Mrs. Haffen, and I particularly liked Charles Lanyer as an older attorney who wants to seduce Lily. I have yet to see a role that this distinguished actor plays where he is not outstanding. Others in the performance, Lorri Holt, Julie Eccles and Charles Dean are also excellent.

J. Paul Boehmer plays the dapper young attorney Lawrence Selden. His bouncing enthusiasm made the play come alive when he was on stage. He reeks of charm and his performance rises above the dull script.

The production looks great and the gossamer gowns by Anna Oliver are outstanding. The stylishly minimalist stage design by Kate Edmund sets the tone perfectly. I just wish the script would have been better and Lily who is the center of the play had more edge. I doubt if this production would ever go to New York. It runs until through April 23rd.

A new production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II opens on May 4th.

- Richard Connema

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