Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin’s Haus of Mirth in the Studio Theatre is her second year effort in IU’s 7th Annual Festival of New Plays. You’ll find a preshow interview with the playwright and director Joseph D’Ambrosi at wfiu. org/arts.
Garvin’s play is modeled on The House of Mirth, a novel from 1905 by Edith Wharton. In the play “house,” is spelled HAUS and the scene is moved to a dystopian society of all women in the future. Once again the heroine Lily Bart is an outsider without the financial resources to keep the position she’s been born to. However, Garvin makes it even more of a challenge with Lilly outside the vested white power structure.
Edie Farrish, even more of an outsider is our guide into the mechanics of the rigidly hierarchical world. It’s from her that we learn that each of the woman has a grafted smart phone that can transfer money, Susan B. Anthonys, and also indicates the person’s value in society. The range is from red through yellow and on up to green. Edie’s a high red and Lily in a world of high greens is a middling green. Edie is also a character in the story, so just how dependable she may be is just one of the many tantalizing questions in the play.
Lily, Carina Lastimosa, is ever on the alert to up her status and there are several ways that she may do it. She may gain wealth by winning at roulette or successful investing. She can ally, marry someone of a higher status. She can inform on someone of a higher status. A couple of relatively high status outsiders propose marriage. There’s Lauren Selden, Christin Eve Cato who’s outside the white power structure but a success with expertise in health care. There’s Sam Rosedale, Rebecca Dwoskin who’s also a success but as a Jew, also outside the white power group.
The blond Carolynn Stouder as high status Gigi Trenor seeks to ensnare Lilly by lending her money and setting up a clandestine assignation. With her blond partner Julie Trenor, Elise Chase the Trenors even consider having Lily be the surrogate for their baby. Lily is in possession of information about the Trenors that would damage them and raise Lily’s status.
Garvin’s play boasts a strong cast with Carina Lastimosa as the conflicted Lily. Christin Eve Cato, solid as Lauren Selden. Carolyn Stouder and Ellise Chase securely at the top of the blond hierarchy as Gigi and Julie Trenor. Rebecca Dwoskin as a thoughtful Sam Rosedale and Adrianne Embry as the Trenors’ maid of all work and our guide to Haus of Mirth’s futuristic world.
At the center of The Haus of Mirth is Lilly Bart’s character, and it’s a puzzle that I’m still puzzling over. She does fail in her undermined efforts to increase her wealth. She refuses sincere and socially profitable marriage proposals from two women who seem eminently acceptable. She also refuses to inform on the treacherous Trenors. In her final moments, it’s too late to accept Lauren’s offer of escape. There’s just something so true in Lily, that try as she might, she can’t let it go and I wonder what it is.
Haus of Mirth is blessed with production support. Joseph D’Ambrosi is the collaborative director. Reuben Lucas’s scenic projections of the characters up and down levels and of the roulette wheel are prominent features. Elizabeth Grace Davis has gowned and trousered the cast to a fare the well…though I join one audience member is wondering why in the future everyone still wears high heels. MacKenzie Van Tassell expertly lights the scenes. Joseph Moran makes the sounds and music part of the story.
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin’s Haus of Mirth plays February 27-March 2nd in the IU Theatre’s intimate Studio Theatre.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker