BWW Review: Sharp Cast Brings Scandal to the Stage in Pearl Theatre Co.'s VANITY FAIR
I was intrigued by the idea of seeing William Thackeray's Vanity Fair performed on stage. Having never read the novel before (despite my English degree) and therefore scolding myself for not knowing more of this nineteenth-century masterpiece, the Pearl Theatre Co. now offers the perfect chance for curious New Yorkers to see this all at once scandalous, relentless and heartbreaking plot in possibly its greatest form.
And I say that, even though this is my first experience with Vanity Fair altogether, because there is so much good in this production that it is bound to impress even the most loyal of Thackeray fans. With a slight contemporary flare that is truthfully surpassed by the timeless spark characters like Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley hold so dear, and with an effect made that much more potent when seen in a theatrical light, the Pearl Theatre Co. now presents Vanity Fair for its world premiere: a production that is bound to capture your attention.
Adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill (who also plays our heroine Becky Sharp) and directed by Eric Tucker, Vanity Fair has a little bit of everything to make it one of the most intriguing adaptations of a novel I have ever seen; I am quite happy with Hamill's creation as my first exposure to Thackeray's novel. There is so much about this story that audiences are going to love.
From the cynical and mischievous Becky Sharp, who believes her behavior in wooing the hearts of men is justified because of her circumstances, to the egotism which rules her life from her marriage onward - to the unfortunate Amelia, who loves a man who cares so little of the couple's past happiness to all those who are "ruined" by the lives they lead. From that dark element that lingers over these characters, keeping them in their place and justly handing out what they deserve despite their best efforts to deal their own fate, to the brief dance breaks to relieve those bits of mounting tension, this plot is saturated with such vigor and life. This production brings to audiences all that this story is worth.
Vanity Fair tells the unfortunate tale of Becky Sharp, who leaves school acknowledging her poor circumstances and eminent future as a governess. Yet, with the lack of humility others in her position would show, Becky whisks herself away from that abominable place with an air of entitlement that convinces her to use her powers of seduction to woo the heart of any man she can make a husband out of.
Along with her friend Amelia, who is devoted to the uncaring George Osbourne, Becky finds a husband in Rawdon Crawley, who is naïve enough to believe that she is satisfied with his company alone. When Amelia is left without her George and Becky makes herself a desired women among social circles, what ensues is the meshing of personal desire and the hand of fate - when what is deserved will happen and all who believe in happy endings will have the power they possess in this world truly tested. Vanity Fair will captivate you during and then leave you wanting to read the book to see how such a story originally transpired.
The Pearl Theatre Co.'s production of Vanity Fair is so intriguing not only because of how well it holds the audience's attention despite its length, and not only because of how well this adaption brings the essence of the novel in all its glory to the stage. It is such a great production because of how those involved knew that what had been written on paper was just about good enough to bring such a wonderful show to us for its theatrical debut; they just needed something to make it "pop" on stage, and I appreciate how much Hamill and Tucker understood that need enough to make this quite the show.
For example, take the idea of this "vanity fair" as almost an attraction featured by the more despondent for not necessarily the entertainment of but judgment by those the more moral and fortunate of us: that of the audience. Characters will pause for moments of reflection and question the audience as a sort of catharsis, when no other options but to question the consequences of their acts exist. Presented on a stage that almost resembles a circus attraction in itself (while also maintaining what to expect of the period), this show is complete with a ringmaster of a narrator who ushers these characters along and joins in on the fun of this giant game of pretend with more severe consequences.
From cross dressing actors to dance moments which transpose those reflective pauses to bounded contemporary moments, to how all the characters are equally ensconced in this world of Sharp's undying need to conquer and just complete the picture so well, there is so much about this show that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I relish getting to know characters like Becky Sharp - people who, from the start, have a predetermined way of how they will view others and stick to their beliefs, no matter how askew and detrimental they may be in the long run. Individuals who take what happens to them (even if deserved) and forever keep that cold exterior turned to the world, knowing that they have to move on in such a way not to succumb to their circumstances. Although she isn't the most admirable of people, Becky is such a fascinating character, and watching Kate Hamill in this role was such a pleasure. It was honestly like she had tons of practice keeping that venomous nature in tow until she had the chance to play this role; her dedication to it is phenomenal, so a wonderful job!
That is not to undermine the extremely talented cast that joins her in the telling of this story: individuals that each play a myriad of interesting characters with such vigor and conviction, they make it look easy. Every time I see a show that requires so much energy on an actor's behalf to not only perfect a single character but keep the momentum up as many, I am always amazed by the dedication it takes when the collective effort of this is witnessed. An Equity ensemble comprised of Zachary Fine, Brad Heberlee, Tom O'Keefe, Joey Parsons, Ryan Quinn and Debargo Sanyal must be given the utmost credit for a truly wonderful performance.
Kudos to the creative team as well, which includes Sandra Goldmark (Set), Valérie Thérèse Bart (Costumes), Seth Reiser (Lights), and Katharine Whitney (Production Stage Manager). From lights to costumes, set and even the underscoring music, everything comes together beautifully.
Since this show has been extended, you know that the demand for it is great, and rightfully so! I immensely enjoyed this performance, as there is such a lingering element to it - like Becky Sharp is going to keep on struggling but nevertheless hanging on long after the curtain has been drawn. The audience takes that knowledge along with them, and it makes one's perception of life that much more potent. Please come and experience this spectacle known as Vanity Fair!
Vanity Fair began performances at the Pearl Theatre (located at 555 West 42nd Street) on March 24th and will continue for its extended run through April 30th. Tickets range in price: $59 for regular seats ($49 during previews), $69 for premium, $40 for members and $20 rush tickets. Tickets can be purchased online at pearltheatre.org or by calling (212) 563.9261.
The performance schedule is as follows: Previews: March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 at 8pm; March 26, 28, 30 at 7pm; March 29, April 1, 2 at 2pm; Regular: April 4, 5, 6, 9, 23, 25 at 7pm; April 8, 14, 15, 22 at 8pm; April 9, 15, 16, 22, 23 at 2pm; Extension: April 27 at 7pm, April 28, 29 at 8pm, April 26, 29, 30 at 2pm.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Russ Rowland