The House of Mirth Closes Book-It's Season
Lily Bart, the lovely, impoverished and stubbornly single heroine of Edith Wharton's 1905 dark bestseller The House of Mirth, is a character destined for disappointment. Trapped in a society where women are "brought up to be ornamental," she's torn between her desire for a carefree gilded existence and her desire for the unthinkable: a marriage based on love. And unfortunately, at age 29, her shelf life is about to expire. Lily's plight is the heart of Wharton's scathing account of high society, The House of Mirth, which runs April 20 -May 13 at Book-It Repertory Theatre's Center House Theatre.
Adapted by Marcus Goodwin and directed by Jane Jones, The House of Mirth is set in the Gilded Age of 1905 New York, a world of great wealth, great poverty, and more than anything else, great greed.
"The culture that Edith Wharton writes about is very nouveau riche," says Jane Jones, director. "They don't have the experience or grace of knowing how to be rich, of how to act, or how to treat people. There's a lot of measuring up, a ton of greed. They basically eat each other alive. People are terrified of what might happen to them, because things are changing so incredibly fast. Everyone is very guarded about their money and yet they flaunt it shamelessly. They're consumers, in all senses of the word."
Lily Bart is only too aware of her own status as a hot commodity. But her vanity is only one of her fatal flaws. Her naiveté also plays a part in her slow spiral down, as does society's penchant for celebrating and then denigrating its "chosen ones".
"Lily Bart is a celebrity because of her great beauty," says Jones."She's put on this pedestal, but the pedestal is actually a gilded cage; she has no freedom. And unfortunately, once you're on that pedestal, there's only one place to go and that's down. For whatever reason, as a society we celebrate that. Just look at the tabloids where you can read about Jennifer Aniston losing her husband or Lindsey Lohan's drug addiction because she didn't know how to deal with fame and money."
Does that mean Lily Bart is essentially the Jennifer Anniston or Lindsey Lohan of her day?
"Lily Bart is no different,' says Jones. "She's gotten herself into debt through her gambling addiction and she's also addicted to the high life. She's naďve and ignorant as to what the cost of fame and celebrity is, of what it costs to stay in that circle. And if you look at the rich now, nothing's changed. Living in that world costs, sometimes it costs your life."
Prolific author Edith Wharton knew about this world. Born Edith Newbold Jones, her family's wealth and position (they were the original Jones' that people tried to "keep up with") allowed her an insider's view of the best and worst of the Gilded Age, which she faithfully depicted in her literary works. During the course of her life, Wharton traveled extensively, lived both in the U.S. and abroad, and regularly hobnobbed with a host of political and literary giants, including Teddy Roosevelt, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway. In WWI, she journeyed to the front lines and returned to write about it; she was also known for her tireless efforts in assisting the war's refugees. In addition to creating hostels and schools for the war-ravaged children and widows, Wharton helped establish workrooms to employ women, held concerts to provide work for musicians, supported tuberculosis hospitals, and founded numerous other relief efforts, prompting France to award her with the Legion of Honor. As a writer, Wharton produced over 40 books, including volumes of poetry, non-fiction, novels and short story collections. In 1921, she won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, the first woman to receive this honor. Wharton published The House of Mirth in 1905, several years before the dissolution of her unhappy marriage to Teddy Wharton, a man who once said, "Look at that small waist. You'd never think she wrote a line of poetry."
Jane Jones has previously directed Book-It's productions of The Awakening, Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, and Travels with Charley. She also appeared on stage in Book-It's stage adaptations of Breathing Lessons and Cowboys Are My Weakness. Adapter Marcus Goodwin previously adapted Book-It's productions of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Howards End by E. M. Forster.
Cast members of The House of Mirth include Jennifer Lee Taylor as Lily Bart; David Quicksall as Lawrence Selden; Teri Lazzara as Judy Trenor and Eric Ray Anderson as Gus Trenor. Also featured are Shana Bestock; Melissa D. Brown; Diane Hostetler; Kelly Kitchens; Hana Lass; Frank. A. Lawler; Todd Licea; Joy Marzec; Sean Martin; Andrew J. Peterson; and Sam Wykes.
Scenic designer is Matthew Smucker, lighting designer is Jon Harmon and costume designer is Harmony Arnold. Lenore Bensinger is dramaturg/assistant director; Gin Hammond is vocal coach and Dan Dennis is composer/sound designer and musician (piano, mandolin, accordion), with clarinet music provided by Rob Witmer and Kevin Hinshaw.
Book-It patrons are encouraged to bring book donations (new books for ages 0-12) to the Center use Theatre for Page Ahead's 10,000 Books for 10,000 Kids spring campaign. For more information, go to www.pageahead.org.
The House of Mirth runs from April 20th-May 13th. For tickets call (206) 216-0833, or visit www.book-it.org