Lookingglass Theatre presents
At 821 N. Michigan Avenue
Adapted and directed by Laura Eason
Based on the novel by Edith Wharton
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 7:30pm
EXTENDED Thru April 23rd
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
A man looks at the stars and dreams of limitless possibilities. Before he begins his life exploration, his mother gets sick. One obligation after another postpones his happiness quest. Lookingglass Theatre presents the world premiere of the adaptation by Laura Eason, ETHAN FROME. A visitor to a small town becomes intrigued by the village recluse. Through limited interaction, the stranger pieces together Ethan Frome's backstory. Ethan is stuck in a life that happened to him. First, he takes care of his ailing mother. To help him, he recruits his cousin Zenobia. She understands his forced servitude and advises him that his mother's death will release him to finally follow his dreams. Instead of acting on her suggestion, a grateful Ethan begs Zenobia to marry him. Unfortunately, Zenobia accepts and steps into his mother's role... being sick and requiring attention. Once again, Ethan is stuck in a life that happened to him. After years of a bedridden marriage, Zenobia recruits her cousin Mattie to help around the house. Mattie understands Ethan's fated situation and his unrealized yearning. Is his happiness finally within grasp? ETHAN FROME is a man 'smashed-up' by the women in his life.
Playwright and director Laura Eason rips the pages out of Edith Wharton's novel and pieces it together to make a big life circle. The tempo is deliberately mundane. Repetitive actions create this cycle of tedium. An unfinished house (scenic designer Daniel Oustling) perfectly structures the rigid and stark home life. A detachable dining area is used to physically separate the potential fantasy from the harsh truth. It also whirls as a fascinating virtual-reality sled ride. To help tell the story within a story, Eason incorporates a narrator. As a newcomer to town, Andrew White (visitor) pulls along his journey back in time to see the deconstruction of Ethan Frome. White effectively helps organize the flashbacks with simple explanation of significant moments.
In the lead, Philip R. Smith (Ethan) plays ordinary extraordinarily. In between going through the motions of life, he showcases moments of powerful emotion with understated gestures. Ragged breathing, monotone mumbling, gleeful chat, hidden tears, Smith subtly connects the audience to a man resigned to forced confinement. Lisa Tejero (Zenobia)is the queen of passive-aggressive. Tejero is chillingly brutal with logical declarations dripping with disdain. Louise Lamson (Mattie) is the bright light that penetrates through the Frome gloom. Lamson plays it charmingly sweet and innocent. Her bubbly animation contrasts with Tejero's melancholy to heighten the distinction between Ethan's women.
ETHAN FROME is an idealist hoping for change but settling on the static cycle of his life. The show is a poignant tale of three people not quite 'fetching it.' ETHAN FROME masterfully illustrates both sides of regret: not acting on what you want and acting on what you want. Unrequited Life!
Introducing me to the delicious and inexpensive First Slice connected to Lookingglass, Tom describes the show with 'tragic love triangle.'