For some readers, E.M. Forster’s “A Room With a View” is the quintessential Edwardian love story: a well-bred young woman, born to the English gentry, is on holiday in Florence, Italy with an older cousin, a chaperone of sorts, when the slimmest glimpse of a romance kindles ever-so-briefly with the brooding, awkward son of an eccentric social outcast.
Misunderstandings, missed connections, inaction, stifling romantic conventions of the era and the ignorance of youth keep the two would-be lovers from doing much of anything about their attraction while on holiday. Through a series of contrived events, the two meet again in Surrey, England. A priggish fiancé enters the picture. Muted sexual angst ensues. Longing after painful longing tortures readers. And, in this stage adaptation of Forster’s novel, three hours after the opening scene, the story is punctuated by a kiss.
During the course of those three hours a bitchy vicar enters the mix. A flamboyant novelist insinuates herself into the narrative. Carriage rides ensue. Picnics on blankets in the Florentine sunshine. Tea. Not sweet tea, but English tea. Hat pins. Painfully long skirts. Edwardian English. Edwardian manners.
On paper this sounds like a criminally gross misuse of a Friday night, and a production of lesser quality probably would have been. But, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s production of Christina Calvit’s adaptation drew this reviewer in with its charming British humor, a well-appointed set, subtle-but-highly-crafted performances, and, above all, divine costuming.
Suffocating Edwardian mores of 1908 aren’t exactly engine-revving inspiration for a Friday night date, but the quiet, subdued and serene charm of this reluctant love story wins over theatre-goers soon into the first act.
The two lovers, Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson, played by Gwynne Noel Jones and Jeremy Campbell, are beautiful to watch while plying their craft. They are young, both very attractive and both wholly talented actors, sage in their art well beyond their years.
Mr. Campbell, who played in last year’s CTC productions of “Peter and The Starcatcher” and “Beauty and The Beast,” is a natural in the role of a young lover awkwardly stepping into manhood.
Ms. Jones, too, draws on her own youth to portray Lucy, but couples that physical allure with the poise and grace of a woman two decades her senior. Her voice is splendid and strong and her movement is that of a puma: calculating, confident, and in full ownership of any and every circumstance.
Julie Van Valkenburg, who portrays Charlotte Bartlett, the sometimes pushy but perennially loyal cousin-chaperone, uses her quarter-century’s experience and inborn talent to bring to life a charming lady, one who initially annoys but ultimately captures the hearts of audiences with her abiding commitment to the fullness of love.
Stage director and costume designer R. Scott Dunlap has, once again, outdone his best work in both artistic vision and implementation of ideas. His period costuming is genius, the rival of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. Mr. Dunlap’s meticulous research bears forth a host of costumes that transport audiences to Florence and Surrey, 1908. Dunlap says, “In Act One, the cast is largely in darker colors, browns, blacks, purples, etc., mostly tailored and straight lines, while Lucy and George are made to stand out being in white.
“It makes her clearly the focal point and her lace makes her softer than the other characters; she even has ‘wings’ reflected in her costume so that she looks like she might have descended from heaven herself or about to take off at any moment. There are several references to her ’fluttering,’ ‘flying’ and ‘soaring,’ so we wanted her to appear to float through the clouds that Sarah (Miecielica) created.”
Indeed, Sarah Miecielica has outdone herself again with this set and staging. Both Florence and Surrey are palpable in the theater; one can almost smell the dingy, ancient and sensual streets of Florence, and feel the soft summer winds of Surrey wafting over rife meadowlands of clover and sage.
Mr. Dunlap’s artistic vision is consistently informed by both tradition in its best iterations and his own well-crafted innovation. For “A Room With a View,” Mr. Dunlap borrows music, lighting, and playbill cover art that are a collective homage to the 2017 Oscar-nominated film “Call Me By Your Name,” which, too, is a story of young and true love set in Italy.
All actors in this production are exemplary in their roles, but I would be remiss to omit Alexandra Feliciano from these pages. Like other cast members in this production, she plays multiple roles, and executes each with the ease of a veteran. Her range in this show spans characters from a teenage girl to an elderly matron, and she portrays each with confidence and beauty. It is this reviewer’s hope to see much more of Feliciano on the CTC stages.
“A Room With a View” runs through May 13.