The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

Theater, Comedy
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 (Paul Grigonis)
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Paul Grigonis
Jacquelyne Jones and Drew Johnson in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today at City Lit Theater
 (Photograph: Paul Grigonis)
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Photograph: Paul Grigonis
Drew Johnson in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today at City Lit Theater

A new Mark Twain adaptation serves up political satire, but it's not clear how it speaks to modern times.

Drawn from an 1873 novel by Mark Twain, The Gilded Age is set in the late 19th century and tells of the life of Laura Hawkins (Jacquelyne Jones), a bold woman in a world of corruption who woos her way into the halls of the Senate to become an influential lobbyist, and the subject of a high-society scandal.

Paul Edwards's adaptation opens on Laura taking her place at a lectern. She is to recount “The Revelations of a Woman’s Life” for the audience’s pleasure. Jones’s performance is commanding and powerful. She deftly navigates Laura’s emotional journey from calm lecturer to impassioned, scorned lover.  

The play’s triumph comes from Adam Goldstein’s direction. With his designers, he’s created a specific world worthy of Twain’s descriptions. Sarah JHP Watkins’s economic set design includes a massive gilded mirror which is used to great effect. Goldstein’s ensemble athletically balances an incredible variety of plot devices. From the opening steamboat race to the final trial, the cast is constantly moving and well choreographed.

Paul Edwards, a three-time winner of the Jeff Award for adaptation, has made impressive strides here, but his script could still use a bit of work. Despite the incredible amount of plot covered, there isn’t much action. The first act drags through the underbelly of Washington, and the climactic murder trial feels emotionless.

Though the play (like the novel) is subtitled “A Tale of Today,” Edwards has yet to prove exactly what is significant about this story now. In an election year rife with characters, the opportunity for connection to our current political climate is ripe, but the message needs refining.

City Lit Theater. By Paul Edwards. Directed by Adam Goldstein. With Eric Burke, Philena Gilmer, Kevin Gladish, Drew Johnson, Jacquelyne Jones, Scott Olson, Wesley Scott, Abbey Smith, Mike Speller, Nora Lise Ulrey.  Running Time: 2 hrs; one intermission. 

By: Jamie Mermelstein

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