On Stage The Pen Is Often Blind Than The Sword

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GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. – Writing is boring. I should know. I spent half an hour reviewing the first sentence.

Still, playwrights love to write about writers, perhaps because of their shared tolerance for boredom. But beyond that, what is there really to say? Anything that embodies the person beneath the words tends to diminish artistry; anything that sticks to unfiltered words is boring.

Or so it sounds to me from shows about writers I care about. Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, EM Forster, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison have all been bored dramatically recently, with many coming off as wet rags.

The latest to become a dropper in this process is Edith Wharton. To be fair, in writing “Mr. Fullerton” – a play about Wharton, Henry James, and their joint ammorator Morton Fullerton – Anne Undeland was as fascinated as I was by the steely author of classic novels such as “The Age of Innocence”, “Ethan Frome” and “The House of Innocence.” Joy.”

It’s also true that Wharton has an eventful existence away from his pens and notebooks. semi-pornography that he later secretly wrote. But from the game – and I can argue from any game – you would never guess that a brilliant person lived the brilliant life of Wharton.

“Mr. Fullerton, which premiered last week”, Great Barrington Public Theaterintroduces the novelist as a button-up spinster in her mid-40s; Although she has been married for twenty years, her marriage is sexless, childless, and almost loveless. After being seduced in 1907 by Fullerton, a slightly younger and more approachable journalist, she opens herself to passion, while closing herself off to art, as the play implies. In the Great Barrington production, which runs until Sunday, the first thing we see is Wharton (Dana M. Harrison), the Paris apartment he’s renting from the Vanderbilts; The writing desk is under a blanket of dust but the large brass bed shines hopefully.

I will not attempt to judge a play that was deliberately written as a fantasy for its factual improbability. (She said: I really can’t see Wharton turning pages of new prose all over the room for his maid Posy to pick up and paginate.) My problem is “Mr. Fullerton” is about his fictional improbability. Fullerton, a real-life ostensibly magnetic, equal-opportunity Lothario – James called him “magically tactile” – is written here (and accordingly played by Marcus Kearns) as a puppy rather than a hound, alluding to Wharton as a childhood name of camper . , quoting Pussy Jones and proleptically Mae West. When you ghost him, you relax.

No one cares for Fullerton anyway, but the portrayals of Wharton and James (Glenn Barrett) as giggling, giggling, abusive adolescents undermine their enormous position as writers, yet the play relies on it as the basis of its interest. I wouldn’t mind that for James, whose fuss-budget ostentatiousness has always been worth a little deflation.

But keep your satirical hands off my Edith! Her success is in many ways greater than James’s, given her hostility to vintage women writers; Definitely sold it. What’s more, he speaks to his true feelings about the Fullerton affair with more seriousness and poignancy than the play could dramatize. While he was hesitant about whether the brief experience of physical passion had helped him as a human being – he wrote that Fullerton aroused him. “from a long drowsiness” where “a part of me is sleeping” but also your lifebetter before” knew him There is no literary confusion. She removed “Ethan Frome” from her dating relationship.

This utterly brutal novel, “Mr. Fullerton”, with one of the playwright’s best moments, which he set up perfectly. When a newspaper reports that a high school girl has died in a sledding accident, Posy (Myka Plunkett) bursts into tears and reveals that the girl is the daughter she “could be”. Instead, he was the child of a man Posy had once loved but was rejected because serving Wharton offered him a better life.

While Posy is an invention, readers of “Ethan Frome” will immediately recognize the story of the sleigh accident from the novel’s climax. In this, Undeland and “Mr. Fullerton” gets something very right about writing: the brutality of an author’s stealing, robbing reality (even someone else’s) for material.

It is this brutality that is missing here, as well as in other basically sympathetic portraits of literary artists. In Sarah Ruhl’s play “dear ElizabethBased on Bishop’s correspondence with Lowell, the poets simply read to each other, which is sometimes pleasant but not nearly as dramatic. by Matthew LopezHeritageEM Forster is reduced to a gentle grandfather of a new generation of gay men. The reverse problem spoils Poe in many games about him.Red Eye to Grace at Havre”: He’s such a wearisome lunatic that you can’t imagine he has the spare energy to come up with a single rhyme, let alone ‘nevermore’ 18.

In all these works, actors, designers, and directors have agreed to supplement the portrait with approximately correct accents, diction, costumes, and hairstyles. “Mr. Fullerton” also has a fun reality of being produced on campus. Bard College at Simon’s Rock here, just 21 miles south of Wharton’s big house, Mountain, at Lenox. (A line about the late arrival of spring in the Berkshires got a familiar chuckle the night I attended.) But in the end, all those details were unimportant and perhaps even distracting – or at least that was Mr. Fullerton’s mustache.

I say this thinking that the best portrait of a writer I have seen in a theatrical production lately does not contain such imitation. Quite the opposite, really. In “Survival LessonsA series of historical reenactments designed and performed by multi-generational members of the Commissary collective. vineyard theater In the past year, there has been no attempt to match the physical characteristics, or even gender, of the actors with those of the authors they portray: Baldwin, Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, and others. Nor was sonic realism attempted; It didn’t have to be because actors lip-synced the writers’ recorded lyrics while embodying them in their expressions and postures.

It was this disconnection, the refusal to place genius within the confines of the body, that made the episodes so effective and believable. By leaving events and drinking problems out of the picture, they honored what made the writers truly dramatic: putting their brawny ideas into words.

Mr. Fullerton

Daniel Arts Center, Great Barrington, Mass. greatbarringtonpublictheater.org. Working time: 2 hours.

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