Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE AWAKENING • St. Louis Actors' Studio

St. Louisan Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening", was published in 1899, and is notable for being recognized as one of the earliest literary works of feminism. The story, scandalous in its time, centers on Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, anxious to get out from under the thumb of the repressive societal norms in late nineteenth century New Orleans. Chopin's novel was initially criticized and detrimental to her reputation, but has since become a critically acclaimed classic. Washington University's Henry I. Schvey gave this story its original adaptation for the stage in 2004, and St. Louis Actors' Studio gives the piece its first professional premiere -- a challenging adaptation with admirable results.

Edna (Emily Baker) and her family are vacationing at a resort on Grand Isle, not too far from their New Orleans home. With her husband Leonce (Terry Meddows) spending time away on business or at his club during the trip, Edna passes the time with her friend Adele Ratignolle (Maggie Murphy), and Robert Lebrun (Antonio Rodriguez), an amiable, flirtatious young man who helps manage the resort that his mother owns. Edna's also been been overcoming her fear of the water by getting swimming lessons from Robert, with whom she forms a connection. While still on vacation they all attend a concert featuring skilled pianist, the unconventional Mademoiselle Reisz (Christie Mitchell), and Edna is greatly moved by the music.

Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier)
and Maggie Murphy (Adele Ratignolle).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This experience, along with the breezy company of Adele, the attention from Robert, and her newfound freedom of the sea, leaves a lingering impression on Edna when the Pontelliers return to New Orleans. Edna begins to ignore her social duties, preferring to stay to herself, and instead of receiving guests she takes comfort in long solitary walks -- a move that brings reprimands from her husband. Through a growing friendship with, and encouragement from Mademoiselle Reisz, she decides to tend to her artistic spirit and takes up painting. Leonce, sure that something is wrong with his wife, seeks the help of Doctor Mandelet (Michael Monsey), who advises that Edna will be right as rain once her little rebellion has run its course. Leonce decides to leave Edna on her own and have the children stay at his mother's while he is away on business in New York, and during this time, Edna moves into a small house of her own and takes up the dreams she'd left behind. Her love of horses takes her to the racetrack, where she meets Alcee Arobin (Nathan Bush), a local ladies' man who starts to pay regular visits to Edna. SCANDALOUS! Breaking free from the societal shackles is invigorating for her, but in a constrained society, true satisfaction can still prove elusive.

Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier)
and Antonio Rodriguez (Robert Lebrun).
Photo credit: John Lamb
I would imagine that this novel was tough to adapt since the journey of Edna’s independence is such an internal one. Still, Baker firmly holds the center as Edna. Her frustration with her husband and her fondness of Robert and Alcee, along with her increasing sense of autonomy are all conveyed deftly, bringing the ideas in Edna's head front and center without Baker having to say a word. Meddows and Rodriguez are also solid as the baffled husband, and the would-be love interest who eventually finds it necessary to distance himself. Murphy delights as Adele, devoted to her husband and family, and Mitchell is amusing as the uppity Mademoiselle Reisz. Patrick Huber lights the set and his scenic design features a center pole hung with chairs, flanked by video screens. Michael B. Perkins's video design informs the different locations during the show, and Teresa Doggett's costumes are beautifully spot on.

Terry Meddows (Leonce Pontellier)
and Michael Monsey (Doctor Mandelet).
Photo credit: John Lamb
There are times when the pacing seems a little rushed, but again, bringing a novel like this to the stage is tricky, and Schvey's adaptation seems faithful to the book. If you've read the book, or even if you haven't, check it out at the History Museum. It's playing until the 23rd.


KATE CHOPIN’S THE AWAKENING

Written by Kate Chopin, adapted for the stage by Henry I. Schvey
Directed by Milton Zoth
through March 23 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast of "The Awakening"
Photo credit: John Lamb
Cast:
Emily Baker (Edna Pontellier), Terry Meddows* (Leonce Pontellier), Antonio Rodriguez (Robert Lebrun), Maggie Murphy (Adele Ratignolle), Christie Mitchell (Mademoiselle Reisz), Nathan Bush (Alcee Arobin), Michael Monsey (Doctor Mandelet), Molly Ross Fontana (Mariequita/Athenee).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Teresa Doggett; scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Robin Weatherall; movement, Cindy Duggan; props design by Carla Landis Evans; video design by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Sarah Lynne Holt.

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