Understated Obsession Rules Old Globe’s ‘Age of Innocence’

Shereen Ahmed and Callum Adams (photos courtesy of Jim Cox).

Shereen Ahmed and Callum Adams (photos courtesy of Jim Cox).

Many scholars have described Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence, as a love story of sorts. Though, The Old Globe’s solid stage version does not come across as a romantic tale.

Instead, I viewed the rendition as a story about obsession and personal unsatisfaction, due to societal restraints.

Taking place during the Gilded Age in New York City, a young lawyer, Newland Archer (Callum Adams) is engaged to be married to a goodhearted socialite, May (Delphi Borich). After meeting May’s unhappily married cousin, Countess Ellen (Shereen Ahmed), Newland quickly falls in love with her.

Karen Zacarias’ adaptation takes a 384-page book and condenses it for a two hour and 10-minute runtime, with an intermission. Her interpretation contains memorable darkly comedic dialogue that is very critical of judgmental and upper-class New Yorkers. It is these sequences as well as strong writing for an all-knowing narrator in modern clothing (Eva Kaminsky) that largely kept me invested in the drama.

An issue is that it is hard to connect with the feelings that Newland and Ellen share for each other. On stage, the will-they-won’t-they tension starts abruptly and I never believed their longing to be together.

I was more fascinated and disturbed by Newland’s endless longing for Ellen, which makes the script work better as a play about unhealthy obsession than a forbidden romance.

Chay Yew stages a beautiful production with blocking that resembles paintings come to life. His wonderful placement of the actors and incorporation of Susan E. Mickey’s incredible costumes and Lee Fiskness’ hauntingly colorful lighting makes the evening at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage a pleasure to watch.

Callum Adams and Delphi Borich.

Callum Adams and Delphi Borich.

Javier Velasco’s work as a movement coordinator stands out as well since the ensemble walks gracefully on Arnulfo Maldonado’s minimalist set, which fits the 19th century individuals.

Yew gets purposefully understated performances from his cast with Adams, Ahmed, and Borich depicting a messy love triangle. As events unfold, the director and leads keep audiences, not familiar with the classic plot, in suspense about who Newland will end up with in life.

Two supporting performers who deserve praise are Kaminksy who serves as an expressive and captivating narrator, and Mike Sears who gives a versatile performance playing several different characters with distinct personalities.

Although I did not fully understand the affection between Newland and Ellen, I was still engaged with The Age of Innocence and its themes of classism and unethical infatuation. Yew has crafted a visually dazzling period piece that benefits from Zacarias’ smart prose and strong work from the cast and crew.


[box] Show times are Thursdays at 7:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, Tuesdays at 7:00 pm, and Wednesdays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]

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