Peyton Place

 

A World Premiere Adaptationcity lit theatre

By Grace Metalious

Adapted and directed by Paul Edwards

At City Lit Theater, Chicago

Small town soap-opera blossoms on stage with terrific cast

Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place is a 1956 novel  sold 60,000 copies within the first ten days of its release and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 59 weeks. It was adapted as both a 1957 film and a 1964–69 television series. For it’s time, Payton Place was a searingly scandalous and sexy work that dealt with the sordid secrets of  folks in a small New England town. The book was banned often and the author received threats from her small town neighbors. The book sold 20 million copies as it awakened the erotic needs of its repressed readers. The TV series was the first prime time soap that was played two or three time per week generating 524 episodes from 1964-69. Payton Place dramatized  hypocrisy, social inequities and class privilege are recurring themes in a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder as well as teen sexual coming of age.

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In Paul Edwards’ smart, nicely paced and well acted stage adaptation, Peyton Place unfolds as a period piece of life in the repressed 1950’s small town America. We meet three women coming to terms with their sexual identities. Constance MacKenzie (Sheila Willis) is an emotionally drained woman and mother to the sensitive and precious daughter Allison (Catherine Gillespie) – an aspiring writer. Add Selena Cross (Sara Renee Gilbert), the poor girl from the ‘shacks’ and we have three microcosms of the emerging women of the ’50’s.

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With a terrific cast of 15 players, Payton Place emerges as a tightly drawn free-flowing saga that grabs the audience early and keeps us engaged throughout. We relate to Allison, we hate the wife-beating alcoholic Lucas (Dave Skvaria) and we hope that Constance lightens up.  We wonder if  the creepy teen, Norman (Jeremy Myers) can brake the shackles of his dominant mother and we  cheer when the obnoxious womanizer teen, Rodney gets put in his place by his date.  We systematize with horrors that Nellie (Judy Lea Steele) suffers from her nasty husband Lucas.

The story is told realistically depicting the repressed culture of the time. On today’s standard, Peyton Place is quite tame but this worthy production aptly shows where we were in the 1950’s. The story still can ring true in rural America today. This is an outstanding ensemble piece that features several fine performances. Catherine Gillespie, Dave Skvaria and Judy Lea Steele stand out while Jeremy Myers, Mark Precht  (as Tom) and Sara Renee Gilbert added notable performances.  Peyton Place no longer is the sensational ground-breaking work but it is still a fine glimpse into the culture of the 1950’s.  The City Lit Theatre production, in the hands of adapter and director Paul Edwards give a refreshing new life to Peyton Place.  This is an excellent show, don’t miss it!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 26, 2013

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Peyton Place page at theatreinchicago.com

At City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org, tickets $28.50,  Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through March 30, 2013