Tonight, Randy Sharp directed her new adaptation of Henry James’s 1880 novella Washington Square at the Axis Theatre. Akin to film adaptations like The Heiress (1949) and The House of Mirth (2000), director Randy Sharp ably explored themes of love, class, wealth, and power.
The story was set in New York City, steps from the Axis Theatre in the mid-19th century. It centered around Catherine Sloper (Britt Genelin), a plain and unremarkable young woman who lived with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (George Demas). Dr. Sloper was a wealthy physician disappointed in his daughter Catherine. He continuously and callously excoriated her for her beautiful and charming mother’s death during childbirth. While Catherine lit up after later purchasing a wedding dress, she maintained an overall dispassionate posture in reaction to her father’s abusive rants.
Catherine’s life seemed to improve when she met Morris Townsend (Jon McCormick), an unemployed, handsome, penniless, and charming young man who claimed to be in love with her.
Dr. Sloper was suspicious of Townsend’s intentions and believed he was only interested in Catherine’s inheritance. While Townsend admitted to coveting Catherine’s money whenever asked, she didn’t seem to mind. Dr. Sloper angrily forbade Catherine from seeing Townsend and threatened to disinherit her if she married him. As Catherine considered losing her father’s inheritance, and while believing that she and Townsend could live comfortably with funds inherited solely from her mother, she was torn between her love for Townsend and loyalty to her father.
The widowed sister of Dr. Sloper, Elizabeth Almond Penniman (Dee Pelletier), lived with them. Penniman was fond of her niece Catherine and encouraged her to pursue her romantic interests with Townsend despite her father’s disapproval. Pelletier captured the portrayal of a bon vivant Penniman who often took things at face value. She encouraged Catherine to disobey her father’s wishes without fully considering the potential consequences of her actions.
Penniman seemed a bit fascinated with Townsend herself and emerged as a caring, sympathetic character who meant well. She often served as a foil to her martinet brother, Dr. Sloper. Perhaps Penniman saw Townsend as one who might help Catherine find happiness and independence from her father—akin to the joy Penniman recalled before her husband expired.
The cast, setting, dramatization, and well-crafted script evoked yearning, hope, sadness, heartache, and disillusionment. Sharp’s adaptation explored family, love, and social status themes as Catherine navigated whether to follow her heart or obey her father’s wishes. Ultimately, Catherine made a choice with long-lasting consequences for her and those around her.
Washington Square was staged on a simple set with two chairs and sumptuous costuming. The audience was inexorably drawn into a story conveyed through a 90-minute production in a seemingly virtual moment. Paul Carbonara’s music effectively supported the vicissitudes of emotional range in the dialogue and story’s evolution. The rich sound of the cello cast a tragic, romantic pallor that contrasted with the rich intones portraying moments of elation and promise. Skilled, subtle lighting and sound effects followed the story and supported the emotive characterizations delivered by a power cast.
Washington Square at the Axis Theatre
Randy Sharp Directs Her New Adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square From its 19th Century Setting
Original Music by Paul Carbonara
Britt Genelin as Catherine
Dee Pelletier as Penniman
George Demas as The Doctor
Jon McCormick as Morris Townsend
Writer/director Randy Sharp
Production Stage Manager Regina Betancourt
Asst. Stage Manager Laurie Kilmartin
Assistant Director Andrew Dawson
Dramaturge Marc Palmieri
Light Designer David Zeffren
Asst. Light Designer Amy Harper
Composer/Sound Designer Paul Carbonara
Cello Samuel Quiggins
Costume Designer Karl Ruckdeschel
Properties Designer Lynn Mancinelli
Set Construction Adam Couperthwaite, Jon Mccormick
Sound Engineers Michael Birnbaum, Chris Bittner
Website & Graphic Designer Ethan Crenson
Publicity/PR Everyman Agency
Photography Theo Coté, Pavel Antonov, Regina Betancourt
Box Office Manager Erik Savage
Hairpieces provided by The Wig Associates
Artistic Director Randy Sharp
Producing Director Brian Barnhart
Executive Producer Jeffrey Resnick
Runtime is 90 minutes without intermission
Axis Theatre Company
1 Sheridan Square
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 807-9300
For tickets and information, go to axiscompany.org
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Hercules at the Papermill, Colvin, Cohn and Jarosz, Cold Feet, and Han!