AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Joan Ackermann
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Barbara Oliver
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Ice Glen," a relatively new play by Joan Ackermann, sounds better in a written summary than it works on a stage. At least that's the conclusion from the West Coast premiere staged by Aurora Theatre Company and directed by Barbara Oliver. It takes place in 1919, mostly in a rundown mansion in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The mansion's attractive widowed owner, Dulce Bainbridge (Lauren Grace), has fallen on hard times since the death of her husband. Although he has been dead for two years, he's mentioned so often that he's another character in the play.

Among Dulce's three remaining employees is Sarah Harding (Zehra Berkman), her gardener, who has been there for 10 years. Sarah also is a strong-minded, nature-loving poet who is appalled when a neighbor, author Edith Wharton, sends three of her poems to the Atlantic Monthly without her knowledge. Even though the respected magazine's editor, Peter Woodburn (Marvin C. Greene), goes to the mansion himself to gain permission to publish them, she adamantly refuses. She remains steadfast in her refusal even when he tells her that her poems have profoundly moved him and that he believes she is a brilliant writer. As a byproduct of his visit, however, a love triangle is set up involving the editor, the widow and the poet.

Discreetly observing all of this are the other two employees, Grayson, the butler (Julian López-Morillas); and Mrs. Roswell (Jessica Powell), the housekeeper. Both of them have worked there for many years. Completing the household is Denby (Douglas B. Giorgis), a pubescent orphan who was taken in by the late Mr. Bainbridge and who has below-average intelligence, to put it politely.

Despite John Iacovelli's set design, which allows quick scene changes, the play tends to drag, perhaps because it needs some judicious cutting. This is especially true in the uninvolving first act, with its stilted dialogue. The second act is more interesting as conflicts are set up and resolved. Another weakness of the play is that Denby seems superfluous even though Giorgis portrays him well. Moreover, one comes to care far more for Grayson and Mrs. Roswell than the ostensible principals, in part because López-Morillas and Powell seem to have a better grasp of their characters than do their colleagues.

Anna Oliver's period costumes, especially the smart frocks worn by Dulce, are well suited to the characters. Jim Cave's lighting and Chris Houston's sound also complement the production, but not enough to offset the weaknesses of the script.

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