Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE at The Old Globe

Playing through March 10th at The Old Globe

By: Feb. 19, 2024
Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE at The Old Globe
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THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is a gorgeously sumptuous and lush production full of beautiful people, costumes, and lighting, as it explores the true cost of keeping up appearances.  THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is playing at The Old Globe Theatre through March 10th.

Based on the novel of the same name by Edith Wharton, and adapted by Karen Zacarías,  the show opens with a narrator (Eva Kaminsky) dressed in modern attire, setting the scene for the audience. Like a modern art or history museum docent, she is here to set the scene for the audience as well as occasionally offers additional information or quips throughout.

Newland Archer (Callum Adams) is a lawyer and member of the glittering New York society.  He is looking for the perfect society marriage, one that secures his already rarified place within their ranks.  His fiance May (Delphi Borich) is a diamond of this society; beautiful, sweet, rich, and follows the rules laid out for her to the letter.  In a world where gossip and salacious rumors are spread with quickness, May will never put a foot out of line.

At the opera, Newland overhears the gossip that May’s cousin, the infamous Countess Ellen Olenska (Shereen Ahmed) is in town, having left her philandering and abusive husband in Europe and is looking to get a divorce.  In other words, she is a walking scandal, but one that Newland feels drawn toward despite himself.  Torn between his duty and his desire, Newland finds himself having to decide what he wants to do before a decision can be made for him.

Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE at The Old Globe

The costumes by Susan E. Mickey are truly spectacular.  In this world, where they have created a rigid code of behavior, that mimics the aristocratic social hierarchy in Europe, these powerful and wealthy families rigidly cling to their structure of society as the world is starting to change around them.  Nowhere is that change more highlighted than in the costuming and behavior of the Countess.

Where most of the cast are in neutral creams, blacks, and grays, and they are all richly textured, full of pleats, and swaths of fabric that create beautiful movement. The Countess's main outfit is ruby red, and her second dress is black, both of which may bring to mind the infamous Sargent painting “Portrait of Madame X.” 

Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE at The Old Globe

The Countess is both a member of a high society family and a scandal- she has the required cinched waist and upper-class profile but wears sumptuous colors, fabrics, and materials.  The dresses all follow the rules of decorum while also neatly sidestepping them.  Her red dress is gorgeous and eye-catching, but it is not as it seems, with skin tone-colored sleeves and neckline technically covering what appears to be bared. Her cape is gorgeous and used either to cover herself up or to flow behind underscoring her regality and her aristocratic status.  She is a Countess, even if she doesn’t wish to be any longer. 

Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE at The Old Globe

The lighting by Lee Fiskness is equally gorgeous, full of vivid colors and wonderful saturation. It allows the performers to play with the silhouettes that dance beautifully across the colored scrim. Along with the scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado that is anchored by a chandelier in the center, the entire play is like watching a work of art come to life on stage.

Kaminsky as the narrator is funny and informative and has the most personality and wit in the show as she makes her observations and explanations.  

Ahmed as the Countess is excellent at balancing the behaviors of this society while conveying the deep emotional cost this restraint is costing her.

Adams as Newland starts calm and cool, but his calm starts to fray as he battles his desire to stay in society's good graces with his desire for the Countess.

Borich as May is the perfect and beautiful society innocent who is much more than her calm exterior conveys. If New York society is a battle of wits, then May just might be playing a strategy that neither her husband nor her cousin could fathom.

Mike Sears is also a standout as one of the gossipy society gentlemen.

Direction by Chay Yew is as elegantly restrained as the characters, but the pacing feels static instead of the slow build of tension and angst.  The temptation is too much to believe that it should culminate in a climactic scene in the second act.

One would have hoped that in the adaption more wit would have been imbued upon the characters as opposed to the narrator who gets most of the fun bon mots and quippy society observations.  Her asides and introductions, while entertaining, never allow the play to truly gain momentum. 

About the society structure New York has built for itself, the Countess remarks "All this blind obeying of tradition, somebody else's tradition, is thoroughly needless. It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it a copy of another country." Similarly, it is unsatisfying to have so rigidly adhered to the source material and pacing that the story's transition from book to stage does not allow for room for any vivacity, or deeper exploration of the brutality that lies beneath the velvet gloves of good manners.

How To Get Tickets

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is playing at The Old Globe Theatre through March 10th. For ticket and showtime information go to www.theoldglobe.org 

Photo Credit: Jim Cox




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