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Paulanne Simmons

The Time Is Ripe

Paula McGonagle and Andy Paris in "Innocents." (Photo: Rachel Dickstein)

Directed by Rachel Dickstein
Presented by Ripe Time
Ohio Theater
66 Wooster St. between Spring and Broome streets
Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 7 p.m., Mon. at 8 p.m.
$20 General Admission, $15 Students (w/ID) & seniors
Smarttix (212) 868-4444 or www.SmartTix.com, TDF accepted
Opened Jan. 8 plays through Feb. 5
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 9, 2005

One hundred years after the publication of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” New York City has changed enormously. But the lives of the privileged and the consequences, if not the causes, of falling from grace have not.

In fact, Rachel Dickstein, who conceived, adapted and directs, “Innocents,” now at the Ohio Theater, says she came to The House of Mirth, the novel the play is based on, via Martha Stewart.

“Martha’s rise from a working-class family to the heights of wealth in American society, her iconic status as the arbiter of the beautiful life, and of course her tumultuous demise, make her a fitting parallel to Lily Bart’s rise and fall,” she writes in the program.

But the similarity should not be stretched too far. Wharton’s Lily Bart is a product of turn-of-the-century New York City, a world in which women had limited options. Unlike the strong-willed Stewart, she is a weak woman who is destroyed by gambling debts, the loss of an inheritance and social indiscretions. Stewart has been set back by her own greed and hubris.

Wharton, who was born into high society, makes observations on a class of people she knew from infancy. Her work is reminiscent of Henry James, a writer she greatly admired.

The House of Mirth tells the story of a young lady who is orphaned, dependent on a rich aunt and searching for an appropriate husband. Lily (Paula McGonagle) cannot accept the sincere Lawrence Seldon (Andy Paris) because he lacks money, becomes involved with Gus Trenor (Christopher Oden), who lends her money then tries to seduce her, and rejects the advances of Simon Rosedale (Grant Neale), who wants her as a symbol of his success in climbing the social ladder. Her eventual downfall reminds one of Flaubert’s Emma Bovary or Theodore Dreiser’s Carrie Meeber.

Ripe Time takes the basic story and tells it with words, images, music and dance, creating an impressionistic mix that re-creates both the inner and outer life of the heroine.

Susan Zeeman Rogers’ simple but evocative set of iron gates and flowing fabric brilliantly defines and redefines the space. The ensemble interprets the story in short vignettes interspersed with dance that combines modern movement with a classical mien. And Ilona Somogyi’s flowing white costumes lend grace to Lily’s fall and irony to the cruel fate that has led to it.

Ripe Time’s ensemble work is impeccable. The seven artists who perform on stage are impressive in both their visual and verbal vocabulary.

Innocents has a beauty that intrigues and a pervading tragedy that haunts. [Simmons]

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