Through April 11. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. $22-$33. Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. 770-422-8369. www.theatreinthesquare.com.
Bottom line: A dreary story, told drearily.
By Bert Osborne
When the most arresting development in the play involves a broken pickle dish, or when some of its more memorable characters take shape as makeshift tailor’s dummies with prerecorded voices, something is clearly amiss about Theatre in the Square’s bleak “Ethan Frome.”
Part of the problem, no doubt, is Dennis Krausnick’s slight and sloppy adaptation of Edith Wharton’s foreboding 1911 novel, in which a woebegone New England farmer, trapped with a domineering wife, falls for her comely nursemaid. But director James Donadio’s static Square staging — with largely lackluster performances by a four-person cast — doesn’t help.
Robin Bloodworth meanders through the title role as if dazed and confused. That isn’t so bad in the latter segments of the story, after a tragedy leaves Ethan with a limp and a distorted face. Elsewhere, however, the actor rarely reveals much of an emotional dimension to the character. His scenes with the wife lack tension; his scenes with the girl feel dispassionate. As a man presumably hardened by life and shaken with “deep anxiety,” he only skims the surface.
Although she occasionally seems to be channeling Katharine Hepburn, with her pronounced accent and stiff posture, Ellen McQueen fares somewhat better as the shrewish Zeena. Krausnick’s condensed version of events makes it none too easy, leaving a lot of the wife’s motivations out in the cold. Suffice it to say, one minute she’s just what Ethan ordered, the next a possibly pathological ball and chain.
Newcomer Erica Honeycutt is pleasant but unremarkable as the young woman who alters their lives. Her romantic chemistry with Bloodworth is negligible, and so is any sense of wonderment about discovering the world “through different eyes” (his). The ordinarily resourceful Paul Hester struggles to adequately distinguish between a number of smaller roles.
Donadio’s production is also plagued from a design standpoint. With four actors, three cloaked stagehands and a couple of those rolling stick figures on hand at any given time, the Marietta theater’s intimate space is often too congested to properly reflect the desolation of the characters or their environment.
Kat Conley drapes her set in snowy whites, but a large cutout of a sawmill wheel obscures our view of an upstairs room in the farmhouse. Despite his periodic use of a strobe, Mike Post’s lighting is otherwise murky: when Bloodworth stands in front of a simulated fireplace, or McQueen sits up in bed, their faces remain shrouded in darkness as they speak.
Slowly paced, and relying more heavily on narrated exposition than on well-defined characterization, “Ethan Frome” has a peculiarly enervating effect — a drama about the “striking ruin” of a man that isn’t very striking.