By Holli Harms
Randy Sharp’s new adaptation of Henry James’ novel Washington Square is a beautifully staged, perfectly acted, chronicle of the Sloper family in 1840s New York. Mid-19th century New York was a time when proper men and women acted just that, properly; proper ways to sit, walk, stand, talk, and eat. Rituals of propriety were everything and large movements or emotions were scorned.
Washington Square is the story of Catherine Sloper, the child of a prestigious and well-to-do doctor, and niece to an elderly romantic aunt Penniman. Catherine is nothing that her father wanted. She is not beautiful. She is not proper. She is clumsy. She is awkward. She walks too fast when she should be moving slowly and too slow when she should be moving with determination. She is all wrong in both society’s eyes and her father’s. Catherine is clumsy but her clumsiness is endearing and her innate joie de vivre, played with open childlike perfection by Britt Genelin, has us all rooting for her.
For her father the doctor, played with humorless military precision by George Demas, she leaves him with discontent. He has resigned himself to the truth that no young, nor old even, man would ever want to court, let alone marry, his unfortunate child.
Then one day a supposed prince charming, Morris Townsend, appears at Catherine’s doorstep. Jon McCormick’s Townsend is himself a lost soul, an outsider who appears to find in Catherine a soulmate. He quickly woos her. He appears to understand and appreciate Catherine’s inner beauty, sincerity, innocence, and purity, while her father is outraged by Townsend. He appears and seems but is he for real? The Doctor does not believe for one moment that this handsome young man is smitten by his daughter. Clearly, Townsend with no job and no trust fund is courting his drab child for her money. She is worth $30,000 a year. $10,000 of that is from her successful doctor father, but the larger portion, the $20,000 a year, was left to her by her heiress mother who just to complicate things, died after childbirth. Catherine’s mother was born wealthy. She met Catherine’s father when he was a lowly student of medicine. Could we argue that the doctor took advantage of that situation himself? We could, but the doctor vehemently stands by “his” truth that he met Catherine’s mother when he already had a prosperous career on the horizon and Mr. Townsend has nothing. What money Townsend had he squandered away on extravagant food and fun. Catherine’s father makes it his mission to keep Catherine and Morris Townsend apart. Undercutting the doctor’s actions is romantic overly zealous Aunt Penniman, played with the energy of a 16-year-old and brass band humor by Dee Pelletier. Penniman is enamored by Townsend, she believes completely in his love and commitment to Catherine.
This spider web of desires and wants, of truths and lies, of hidden meetings and courtships, of repression and liberty is a musical composition of words and movement requiring a certain silence and a constant flow. Every moment of this 85-minute production is full and engaging, even the quiet moments, the transitional moments. Director Randy Sharp has, it feels, created a staging of movement, not just of bodies but of time, that seamlessly moves the story forward. In this timeless play of female suppression, a hand goes up, a turn is made, a change in position, and we are in another day, another hour, another time.
The actors are as fluid and flawless as the writing and staging. The music composed by Paul Carbonara is part of this amazing production of sweeping compositions.
Washington Square A New Adaptation from the Henry James Novel
Written & Directed by Randy Sharp
with: George Demas, Britt Genelin, Jon McCormick, Dee Pelletier
writer/director: Randy Sharp, sound designer/original music: Paul Carbonara
stage manager: Regina Betancourt, asst. stage manager: Laurie Kilmartin, asst. director: Andrew Dawson, dramaturge: Marc Palmieri, light designer: David Zeffren, assistant light designer: Amy Harper
costume designer: Karl Ruckdeschel, Hair pieces provided by The Wig Associates
A special thank you to tdf Costume Collection, prop design/construction: Lynn Mancinelli
Artistic Director – Randy Sharp
Producing Director – Brian Barnhart
Executive Producer – Jeffrey Resnick
Washington Square October 5 – 29, 2022, Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8pm
TICKETS HERE: Adults $30; Seniors/Students $20; Artists/Under 30 $10; Veterans & Active U.S. Service Members and Their Families, FREE
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission. Due to the configuration of the theater, late seating cannot be permitted.
A face mask is now strongly encouraged inside the theater.
Axis Theater will offer flexible options for exchanging tickets and account credit if you cannot attend a performance due to illness or recent COVID-19 exposure.