Ethan Frome

Written and directed by Laura Eason

Ethan Frome at Lookingglass theatre
Ethan Frome at Lookingglass Theatre

Adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton

At Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago

“A shattered body…A frozen heart…A legendary sled ride down an unforgiving hill.  In the deep of winter, a strange mystery unfolds.  The whole town knows the story.  But does anyone know the truth?” – the story of Ethan Frome

Subdued desire lurks beneath the gray New England sky

Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel, Ethan Frome, is reduced to a taunt 90 minute stage drama by Laura Eason now running at Lookingglass Theatre.  This is a subtle and wrenching play revolves around surviving the bleak, cold and raw rural New England environment.  Eason’s adaptation vividly depicts the effects of isolation,  loneliness and interdependence on the inhabitants of snow-bound folks. The story is told by a third person narrator using flashbacks.

Ethan Frome at Lookingglass theatre

Ethan Frome (Philip R. Smith) is the gentle and kindly man who runs a farm and a small wood mill in turn-of-the-century rural New England. He works hard, care for his ailing mother,  and reads engineering books in the hope that one day he’ll escape the country for the city. Obligation and necessity rule his world.

Ethan Frome at Lookingglass theatre

Eventually, he enlists the aid of  Zenobia  (Lisa Tejero) to care for his dying mother.  Upon her death, Ethan marries to stoic Znobia.  But over time, Zenobia becomes ill with an assortment of ailments that her past patients exhibited. She convinces Ethan to take on a distant relative and homeless girl, Mattie Silver (Louise Lamson) to help with the household chores. Zenobia seems to relish being an invalid and Ethan meekly enables her.

Ethan Frome at Lookingglass theatre

When the young and sensuous Mattie arrives, Ethan is smitten with her, but from a distance,  of course. His Victorian New England manners won’t allow other wise.  Quickly,  Ethan gets as involved  socializing with Mattie as his manner allows. Zenobia suspects the Ethan fancies Mattie.  Since Mattie isn’t exactly a terrific housekeeper or cook, Zenobia congers up a plan to convince Ethan to hire an other girl to work the household thus making Mattie’s stay redundant.

We witness Ethan’s loneliness and his growing love for the vivacious Mattie. But just as Ethan is ready to express his love for Mattie and his desire to leave Zenobia for Mattie and travel to the city; obligation, duty and honor prevent him from acting on his desires. Ethan and Mattie deny their passion and dare not acknowledge their love. They tragically act out their dismay in an act of desperation. I’ll not say more. We see Ethan move from moving from silent desire to action to quiet submission, ordered by life’s circumstances.

Ethan Frome at Lookingglass theatre

The power of this story is marvelously presented in the subtle, subdued nuances by Philip R. Smith in his understated performance as Ethan Frome. Nice work here. Louise Lamson’s Mattie exudes youth and innocence while Lisa Tejero’s Zenobia is a controlling person with a strange sense of obligation. The story’s ending will stun and surprise you.  This is an impressive and reserved work of art that depicts the tragedy of unfulfilled love and desire. The stoicism of rural life trudges toward and  melts the vibrancy of passion. Ethan Frome is wonderful!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 5, 2011

For full show information, check out the Ethan Frome page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, call 312-337-0665,, tickets $34 – $62, Wednesdays thru Fridays at 7:30 pm,Saturdays & Sundays at 3 & 7:30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through April 17, 2011

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