Review: A Room with a View by Austin Playhouse
by Michael Meigs

A Room with a View at Austin Playhouse in Lara Toner's graceful adaptation of Forster's novel is serene fun.  An ungracious critic -- say, someone who regularly posted grumbling letters to the Times of London -- might ask why the Playhouse bothered to concoct a presentation of the style regularly served up by the BBC on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, but that imaginary critic would miss the point entirely.  Another curmudgeonly observation might be that Mssrs Merchant and Ivory did the definitive cinema version back in 1985, certainly still available from video sources.  One might even be able to stream it from Netflix


Cyndi Williams, Claire Ludwig (image: Gray G. Haddock)The story itself is not the issue, for Forster's witty and sympathetic if somewhat patronizing portrayal of Lucy Honeychurch and those around her features amusing characters caught up in the most basic dramatic dilemma of all: who best deserves to make our sweet heroine happy?  Most of us know exactly how it's going to turn out, and we willingly participate in the re-creation and recreation of that make-believe.


No, the response to that hypothetical critic is simple.  It's symbolized by the contrast between your comfortable sofa or desk chair at home and the seat in the theatre.  At home you may choose to sit alone or even in company to witness A Room with a View, passively absorbing a crafted vision identical in all respects for everyone who sees it. Or you may go to the theatre instead, where each comfortable seat with a view offers a subtly different experience and features actors who live and breathe and share the space with you. Last week I wrote of Zach's Laramie Project and the power of familiar faces.  In Toner's staging of A Room with a View, actors well known to theatre-goers quite transform themselves from citizens of 2012 Austin to self-aware representatives of the educated English middle class of 1908, experiencing the threatening joys of Florence and then returning to bourgeois life in London.


That's the advantage of working with a repertory company, however loose. David Stahl is a jovial, good-hearted Anglican clergyman; Tom Parker is an abrupt, truth-speaking businessman; Rebecca Robinson serves as the spinster cousin charged with chaperoning young Lucy; Cyndi Williams is a colorful busybody woman novelist in the first act and the heroine's strait-laced mother in the second.




Claire Ludwig, Joey Melcher (image: Gray G. Haddock)



Tom Parker, Joey Melcher (image: Gray G. Haddock)Jason Newman is no longer the malicious schemer Geoffrey of The Lion in Winter; he also gets a double go with comic characters: a priggish mutton-chopped clergyman and then as Lucy's dry-stick suitor Cecil Vyse, a proper fellow of distinctly aristocratic self-certainty. Joey Banks as Lucy's brother Freddy is new to the Playhouse but recognizable from the Zach's 2010 staging of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.



Claire Ludwig and Joey Melcher, new faces both of them, are at the center of these moon dances.  A relative newcomer to Austin, Ludwig was lost last year in the flutter of the kimono-wearing chorus of The Mikado by Austin Gilbert & Sullivan and then delivered a striking performance, sensuous yet restrained, in Penfold Theatre's "live radio drama" It's A Wonderful Life at Friar Tuck's in Round Rock.  As Lucy Honeychurch she's a sensible, intelligent young woman with alert self-awareness, perhaps a bit more 21st century than her prototype but all the more appealing for that. Melcher as George Emerson, the offspring of a successful but unpolished tradesman (Parker), has ardor and intensity scarcely kept in check by the responsibility not to be a cad. The two are a natural match with everything going against them, so it's entirely natural for us to root for them.



Action is lighthearted throughout. Particularly amusing is the glee at the swimming Jason Newman, David Stahl (image: Gray G. Haddock)hole, where Freddy and George persuade their clergyman friend (Stahl) to take a plunge (the notional pond is located offstage, under and behind our bleacher seats).



Less successful is the 'dark' incident in Act I where Lucy witnesses a knifing and death that pass in a flash in an Italian piazza. That may have been due in part to the fact that we attended on a Sunday afternoon. The canvas overhead was glowing from the Texas sun and a door just to stage right stood open, offering not much of a breeze and providing a perspective out onto the Mueller field clad in Texas bluebonnets. As willing as we were, not until Texas started to fade into the dusk could we settle firmly into 1908.



Review by Cate Blouke for the Statesman's Seeing Things blog, April 12



UPDATE: Director Lara Toner writes in the Austin Playhouse blog about the process of adopting Forster's novel to the stage, April 3

Click to view the program for A Room with a View in Lara Toner's adaptation at Austin Playhouse


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A Room with a View
by E.M. Forester, adapted by Lara Toner
Austin Playhouse

March 23 - April 22, 2012
Austin Playhouse
6001 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78752