by Jonathon Ward, adapted from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne; Directed by Emily Tetzlaff
Part of the 2018 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 10.28.18
FringeHUB, 685 Washington Street
by Ken Kaissar on 10.30.18
Chris Tipp and Jennifer Laine Williams in The Beautiful. Photo by Emily Tetzlaff.
BOTTOM LINE: An elegant and romantic adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Artist of the Beautiful."
Jonathon Ward’s adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Artist of the Beautiful” highlights the inherent inequality in love between men and women. Even in 2018, the disparity rings true. Even though we are no longer living in Hawthorne’s intolerant world of scarlet letters, a double-standard for female sexual behavior still exists.
Ward's adaptation is faithful to Hawthorne, but he builds on the story's foundation and imagines an additional scene. Owen Warland (Chris Tipp) accepts that his beloved Annie Danforth (Jennifer Laine Williams) was forced to marry a man of her father’s choosing. After seeing her one last time and presenting a beautiful butterfly as a gift, he exiles himself to Europe. And this is where Hawthorne’s story ends. But Ward imagines an additional scene in which Annie leaves her husband and children and joins Owen in Paris. Is she just visiting or will she stay forever?
Ward raises all the wonderful questions that stories are asking more and more in a post #MeToo world. If Annie stays with Owen will she be his equal—a fellow artist in her own right—or merely Owen’s supportive caretaker? Will she be able to retain her own identity and purpose, or will she become an “appendage” (Ward’s word, not mine) to her lover? These are wonderful questions, but when I first heard them, I had to wonder if Hawthorne was that woke in 1844. Though Hawthorne is considered progressive for his time, Ward’s questions are clearly products of ours.
Emily Tetzlaff’s production is simple and beautiful. With virtually no set to speak of, Catherine Fisher’s costume design is especially prominent. Performed in an empty dance studio, it is not clear how this neutral space will become theatrical even minutes before the play starts. But as the actors take their place, Fisher’s period costumes have a transformative effect, instantaneously transporting us to a nineteenth-century farm.
The acting by Williams and Tipp is subtle and exquisite in this intimate space that provides a front-row seat for all. It’s a rare treat to see such honest acting with no need for binoculars. The first act—the one most faithful to Hawthorne’s inspiration—is admittedly slow: the characters are resigned to their inevitable fate, so the rising action feels more like a denouement. But not surprisingly, the play comes to life in the second half when Ward fully assumes control of the narrative. The Beautiful offers a quietly, contemplative love story that asks questions with which we will all continue to grapple for the foreseeable future.
(The Beautiful plays at FringeHUB, 685 Washington Street at Charles Street, through October 28, 2018. Meet at the RED FringeNYC flag. The running time is 1 hour. Performances are Sat 10/13 at 5, Sun 10/21 at 4:45, Fri 10/26 at 7:15, Sat 10/27 at 8:30, and Sun 10/28 at 1:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $22 (plus $3.69 ticketing fee), $16 (plus $3.51) for seniors, and are ONLY available online at fringenyc.org. For more information visit sites.google.com/view/the-beautiful/home.)
The Beautiful is by Jonathon Ward, adapted from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Directed by Emily Tetzlaff. Costume Design by Catherine Fisher.
The cast is Chris Tipp and Jennifer Laine Williams.