Masterful Interpretation Of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” Floats Across Time In The St. Louis Actors’ Studio Production

Members of the cast of St. Louis Actors' Studio production of "The Awakening." Photo: John Lamb

Members of the cast of St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

Washington University Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, Henry I. Schvey, has transformed the scandalous and beautiful Kate Chopin novel, “The Awakening” to an ethereal production for the stage which seems to catch a moment in time that is refreshing with an other-worldly feeling that puts the audience in another place, another time and another state of mind. It’s an amazing achievement that is enhanced by a wonderful cast and a simple but effective set design.

Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, was looked upon at the turn of the century as a rebel and an immoral woman. As we get into her mind, however, we learn she is struggling with the Victorian sensibility that seems to be handcuffing people in general and women in particular. A rather strict and often abusive (at least verbally) husband, Edna seeks out resolution to her restless nature and feelings of being trapped in an era that doesn’t fit her psyche. She seeks companionship, accepts the flirtations of other men in her life, but is truly looking for peace within her own soul. The people who move in and out of her life take on an often dream-like nature as she becomes the focus of the entire play.

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in "The Awakening" at St. Louis Actors' Studio at the Missouri History Museum. Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker and Nathan Bush in “The Awakening” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Missouri History Museum. Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker gives another sterling performance as Edna. This may be the most complex role and most difficult one to convey she’s ever tackled and she takes us on Edna’s journey through, not only the powerful dialogue within the play, but also through her subtle gestures, facial responses and pure movement. Her portrayal is pure art in every sense of the word. As her husband, Leonce, Terry Meadows also gives a poignant performance of a man who knows what is expected from a wife and knows what he wants in life. Although the words and actions of his wife confuse him, he reaches a manner of sympathy but we fear his patience may soon wear thin.

A handsome, somewhat cleverly roughish chap is the first of her dalliances as Antonio Rodriguez appears to capture her heart as Robert Lebrun. Although reluctantly  going along with her husband’s wishes to learn how to swim, she appears to be more interested in Robert’s flirtatious ways than his ability to teach her the breast stroke. She later gets tongues wagging with another supposed “affair” with one of the Beau Brummels of New Orleans society, Alcee Arobin, staunchly played by Nathan Bush.

Maggie Murphy is solid as her concerned but stalwart friend, Adele and a great comic turn is given by Christie Mitchell as a singer with a bit of a puffed-up attitude who takes a liking to Edna. Rounding out the cast are Michael Monsey and Molly Rose Fontana who both also give solid performances remaining true to the spirit of this beautiful play.

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in St. Louis Actors' Studio production of "The Awakening." Photo: John Lamb

Emily Baker and Antonio Rodriguez in St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Milton Zoth, who is being stretched a bit thin due to also directing the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “Day Of The Dog” opening almost simultaneously off-Broadway, handles the double-duty directing chores beautifully. His subtle yet strong touch blends perfectly with this haunting script. The Patrick Huber set design is incredible with a pole upstage with pegs holding four round-back chairs and a table that all get utilized throughout the play and his lighting design only enhances the beauty of the play. Also on stage are twin matching projection screens set at an angle on either side of the pole on which Michael B. Perkins’ wonderful video designs keep us in the various locations of the play with both still and moving backgrounds. Add the brilliant and beautiful costumes of Teresa Doggett and the wonderful sound design of Robin Weatherall and you’ve got the complete package.

This is quite an achievement for Henry I. Schvey and St. Louis Actors’ Studio. I never thought the complex and inner dialogues of “The Awakening” could be so magically transformed to the stage. Along with this astounding company of actors and the technical brilliance surrounding them, this is an experience for the audience. There is a certain feeling coming off the stage that I can’t remember experiencing anywhere else. Don’t look for them at their usual home at the Gaslight Theatre- this one is being played at the Missouri History Museum and it has a short run- only through March 23rd. Give them a call at 314-314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

 

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