Theater: Hartford Stage
Play: The Age of Innocence
Adapted for the Stage: Douglas McGrath
Reviewed by: Howard Steven Frydman
“The hallmark of excellence, the test of greatness, is consistency” – attempted by many, achieved by few. I so rightly state that this achievement of excellence has been justly reached by The Hartford Stage. I have just returned from a performance of the “World Premiere of The Age of Innocence” at the Hartford Stage, directed by Tony Award Winner Doug Hughes, and starring four-time Tony Award Winner Boyd Gaines and the original Ariel in the “The Little Mermaid” on Broadway- Sierra Boggess, and in my humble opinion this production is “a class act”, simply exquisite, a craft of on stage acting skills, set design, period costumes, that is not to be missed in your lifetime.
As I have mentioned many times in past articles, I have been so overjoyed by this renaissance of the past few years at The Hartford Stage- this consistency of excellence, major kudos go out to both Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak and Managing Director Michael Stotts and the entire staff and team at Hartford Stage for making every production so memorable and exceptional. As they say “Seeing is believing” – let me tell you my thoughts about this production of “The Age of Innocence” and then come out to see it for yourself and judge that all I state is true.
Firstly, “The Age of Innocence”, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for author Edith Wharton – does not feature big production numbers, no duels or lightsabers, no big special effects- just the rituals of a privileged world – during the times she is writing about, the upper-crust, well-to-do New York society aka “Gilded Age” – a term taken from one of Mark Twain’s novels, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. Secondly, I additionally state, this is a quiet piece, the audience is quiet- listening, you are eagerly awaiting to hear every single word spoken by each actor. In fact, though there is no on-stage curtain to rise, on the onset of Boyd Gaines’ slow walk upon the darken stage at plays opening and his “genuine” portrayal of The Old Gentleman” – I immediately felt that I too had literally stepped back in time as well to this “Age of Innocence”.
Wharton’s tale, presented here in association with the McCarter Theatre Center and adapted for the stage by Oscar, Tony, Emmy Nominee Douglas McGrath, has at its heart, a tragic romance, where noble characters confront powerful obstacles. Liken to her previous novel “Ethan Frome” – Wharton utilizes her signature theme – something that is “at hand” yet is “from me” – questioning one’s hopes, desires and even reputations. New York, the 1870’s Gentry set – meet gentleman lawyer Newland Archer, (Andrew Veenstra) recently engaged to pampered “blue blood” princess May Welland (Helen Cespedes). All is blissful, both their families see this union as a continuation of their “upper crust” lineage, until Newland is introduced to May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska and falls for her hook, line and sinker. The Countess, (Sierra Boggess) who most recently has returned to New York from Europe after escaping her own heartless marriage, is in a dilemma herself, where one’s social place is every thing, she cannot divorce nor act on her burgeoning love for Newland. The Wharton stated situation – a love triangle- love et-han yet from-me.
As already stated, this production sets a gold standard for excellence, from set designer John Lee Beatty’s crystal chandelier laden “bird-cage” scenic backdrop, Linda Cho, who we took note of for her costumes designs in “Anastasia”, once again repeating her outstanding period piece designs, to the on stage performance of pianist Yan Li. To our actors – bravo all. I simply note here our four leads, Gaines, Boggess, Veenstra and Cespedes- yet I convey a deep bow to cast-mates, Darrie Lawrence, Deirdre Madigan, Haviland Morris, Josh Salt, Tony Ward, Nick Wyman and the ensemble of Hartt students, Sara Norton, Daniel Owens, Sara Schwab and Alessandro Gian Viviano – excellent and impressive performances all!
Once again I remark that with many of Darko’s production’s, such as “Anastasia” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”, “The Age of Innocence” is ready for its welcome debut on Broadway and is keenly affixed with a “Darko Seal of Excellence”. In the parlance of “The Age of Innocence” I also strongly urge the Hartford Stage to please inaugurate a “Walkway of Fame” in front of the theater, designating permanent public monuments to achievement of those, actors, producers, writers who have graced the Hartford Stage, with a first star going to none other than Darko Tresnjak- he has strongly earned this honor of Excellence- what say all?
Tickets for the Hartford Stage production of “The Age of Innocence” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (860) 527-5151 or by visiting http://www.hartfordstage.org. The production runs through Sunday, May 6th. Weeknight and evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays at 2 p.m.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howards2424@gmail.com