Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review of "The Age of Innocence"

The stage adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence, is receiving a sumptuous, thoroughly entertaining production at Hartford Stage. 

The story focuses on Newland Archer, a young up-and-coming lawyer who is set to wed the charming and attractive May Welland.  All is well until Newland becomes infatuated with his bride-to-be’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, a beautiful and alluring woman, nonetheless, caught up in scandal.  The infatuation, played out amongst the rituals and social mores of New York’s wealthy families, jeopardizes his marriage and overall happiness.

Helen Cespedes and Andrew Veenstra in "The Age of Innocence."

Playwright Douglas McGrath has been faithful to the book that chronicles the upper crust of New York society in the 1870’s.  He homes in on the essential themes of the book such as family honor, the harshness and strictness of high society’s social code, the self-perpetuating traditions of the rich and privileged.

The superb cast, led by Broadway and Off-Broadway veterans, handsomely portray their characters with sophistication and grandeur.  While all members of the acting troupe are outstanding, a few are worth singling out.  Boyd Gaines, a multi-Tony Award winning actor, portrays The Old Gentlemen with a world-weary melancholiness.  He anchors the production with pithy narration and humorous asides.  Helen Cespedes comes across as somewhat vapid and simple as May Welland, but cunningly disguises a scheming no nonsense persona. Sierra Boggess, gorgeous as Countess Ellen Olenska, exudes elegance and charisma, which mixes with a wounded veneer.  Andrew Veenstra, dapper and smooth as Newland Archer, gives a worthy performance as a young man confronting the choice between a loveless marriage and his yearning for a more provocative and captivating woman.
Sierra  Boggess, Andrew Veenstra, and Boyd Gaines in "The Age of Innocence."
Director Doug Hughes guides the production with a skill and flair that emphasizes the refinement of the times as well as the hollowness and social contradictions during the late 19th century.  The pacing of the show is brisk and intelligent.  While the assorted featured roles can sometimes be hard to distinguish they, nonetheless, are positioned nicely in an upper-class minuet.

Scenic Designer John Lee Beatty has crafted a soaring, lattice work structure that reflects the grandiose majesty of high-minded society types and their opulent residences.
The cast in "The Age of Innocence."
Linda Cho’s costumes are evocative of the era, showing the glamour and stylishness of the very rich.

Yan Li, an accomplished pianist, on-stage throughout the play, provides expressively tinged and resplendent mood music that adds a luxurious opulence to the production.

The Age of Innocence, playing at Hartford Stage through May 6th.

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