Figures in bright linen dancing a stylish gavotte: I confess my heart sank during the opening moments of Innocents, Ripe Time's new adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1905 novel The House of Mirth. Wharton's trenchant and tragic social commentary reduced to music hall shenanigans? But before long, this intriguing production had me utterly in its grasp. Under Rachel Dickstein's canny direction, scenes of straight-from-the-novel dialogue alternate with more impressionistic interludes in which doomed socialite Lily Bart pushes a bevy of men away, dances in circles with perpetual suitor Lawrence Selden (a telling literalization of their psychological geometry), shares the stage with her own double, and bobs for her life in a huge red velvet cape frighteningly transformed into a churning scarlet sea. Martha Clarke meets Masterpiece Theater? Not quite. For after all, Wharton punctuates action with images too: The novel's most famous scene features Lily stunning party guests with a tableau vivant of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Taking her cue from here, Dickstein has cleverly highlighted the characters' artificiality in order to make it more painfully real. The production is so ravishing that the relatively undistinguished level of its actingwith the notable exception of the protean Grant Neale, superb as three different menalmost doesn't matter. And yet of course it does: With more complex and full-bodied characterizations, perhaps Lily's terrible demise would break our hearts even more.
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