by Lynn on February 17, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Citadel, 304 Parliament Street, Toronto. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Directed and Choreographed by James Kudelka. Composed by Rodney Sharman. Libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin. Set by David Gaucher. Costumes by Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell for Hoax Couture. Lighting by Simon Rossiter. Starring: (singers) Scott Belluz, Graham Thomson, Alexander Dobson, Geoffrey Sirett: (dancers): Laurence Lemieux, Claudia Moore, Christianne Ullmark, Victoria Bertram.

Produced by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. It plays until February 24.

The House of Mirth is Edith Wharton’s stunning novel of manners in New York society in the early 19th century. Beauty was prized, money was too and reputations were fragile in a society noted for gossip and bitchiness.

Beautiful Lily Bart is in the thick of it. She loves money and is looking for love as well. Keeping up appearances, travel and bridge are expensive. Debt overwhelms her. She borrows money from Trenor, friend’s husband. He will invest it for her but wants something else. Lily is not too swift in picking up the subtext. Later she is implicated in a scandal with another friend’s husband. The downward spiral because of debt, scandal and a tarnished reputation leave her ostracized and desperate. It doesn’t end well for Lily.

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie have taken on the challenge of creating a music, dance, theatre collaboration inspired by the novel. In the resulting piece essence is everything. James Kudelka, choreographer extraordinaire, not only choreographs The House of Mirth, he also directs. There is a swirl of dance activity suggesting the heady world of the rich and well dressed. Partners begin together, see someone more alluring and change partners. And Kudelka’s fine directorial eye for the subtle reaction, the side-long look, the raised eyebrow, speaks volumes about relationships, jealousy, and longing.

I can’t speak knowledgeably of composer Rodney Sharman’s music (theatre is my focus), but it too adds to that lush world of money and manners. The libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin is wonderful. Poch-Goldin is both an accomplished playwright and actor and he brings his playwright’s sensibility and his actor’s smarts to distilling Wharton’s book to its fine focus in his libretto.

In the first aria “America”, the men sing:
Lily’s aunt once said
New York frowns on those unwed
Income makes the marriage bed
It’s a table to be set
And you dare not serve the melon
Before they’ve had the consommé

In those crystalline lines he has described the notion that marriage is vital and being unwed stigmatizes you. Money is uppermost. And the archaic set of upper class etiquette, form and rules paint one as either to the manor born or déclassé. The latter is to be avoided at all cost.

Lily is desperate for a loan and goes to Trenor, (the husband of a friend) who sings “Money”, the lyrics of which are:
“I am horribly poor and very expensive
I must have a great deal of money”
Horribly poor and very expensive
The song of a woman in trouble.

Tremor is a man of the world and knows the angles. He is dashing, watchful, smart and sees an opportunity to get Lily in his power. And he’s a tenor. Lily doesn’t have a chance.

The singing is stirring from the cast of four. And the dancing as I said earlier conjures a grand world. Lily is danced by the languid, elegant Laurence Lemieux. She is lively when Lily is in her element and alluring and quite moving as she descends into despair and solitude when she is ostracized. The dancers are also accomplished. And it’s a pleasure to see Victoria Bertram dance as Aunt Peniston among other characters. Ms Bertram, long a stalwart of the National Ballet, creates the sense of the haughtiness of that class and the devastating displeasure conveyed with a simple look of distain.

David Gaucher’s set of arched curves with a chandelier suspended in the centre says “money and upper class,” as do Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell’s costumes for Hoax Culture.

The Citadel on Parliament is an unlikely place for a dance company’s studios, but its mix of wood and concrete are beautifully designed and completely inviting. I look forward to seeing more there. In the meantime, The House of Mirth is well worth a visit.

The House of Mirth plays at 304 Parliament Street until February 24.

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