Autres Temps in The Boston Globe

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September 1, 2011 · by Catherine · Archives

BOSTON GLOBE, STAGES

Updated to changing times of 1962, ‘Autres Temps …’ at The Mount

August 19, 2011|By Joel Brown, Globe Correspondent

Rory Hammond, Diane Prushas real-life daughter, portrays Mrs. Lidcotes… (kevin sprague)

AUTRES TEMPS … Adapted from Edith Wharton by Dennis Krausnick

Directed by: Catherine Taylor-Williams. Presented by: The Wharton Salon

At: The Stables Auditorium, the Mount, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox. Through Aug. 28. Tickets: $35 general admission. 800-838-3006, www.whartonsalon.org

At first, “Mad Men’’ and Edith Wharton seem not to belong in the same sentence. But if you think of them both as chronicling the lives of people at a particular moment in society, constrained by the mores and manners of their time, the linkage makes a little more sense.

This month at The Mount, Wharton’s home in Lenox, the Wharton Salon presents a stage version of her story “Autres Temps …’’ relocated to TV’s “Mad Men’’ era, specifically 1962. Turns out it’s not much of a stretch

“Autres Temps …’’ tells the story of Mrs. Lidcote, who has been living in Europe since her scandalous divorce made her a pariah in high-society circles. But now her daughter Leila is going through a hasty divorce and remarriage herself, so Mrs. Lidcote returns home to help. Allegedly times have changed since her own troubles – but have they, really?

“Her experience was very disorienting, and … that seemed to be the experience of women at that time in general,’’ says the Salon’s producing artistic director, Catherine Taylor-Williams, who also directs the show.

“Autres Temps …’’ was first published in a magazine in 1911 as “Other Times, Other Manners,’’ and appeared under the current title in a story collection a few years later, Taylor-Williams says. She wanted to set the play halfway between 1911 and today. But wouldn’t that mean it should be set in 1961?

“I chose 1962 because I wanted to do just the year before some of the big changes that happened for America,’’ she says, listing President Kennedy’s assassination, and publication of “The Feminine Mystique.’’ “It’s like change is just on the cusp, but not yet. Obviously some wonderful changes and some unfortunate changes, but certainly ones that changed the landscape of America. I wanted to get that moment just before.’’

Although she’s aware that the era has been reexamined due to the popularity of “Mad Men,’’ Taylor-Williams says what really influenced her plan was two books she had been reading: “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present’’ by Gail Collins and “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s’’ by Stephanie Coontz. Mrs. Lidcote had a lot of similarities to women in the early 1960s, Taylor-Williams says.

“Being told they should stay at home and be mothers and housewives, there was a whole cult of femininity they were expected to observe,’’ Taylor-Williams says. “But there was sort of an inner desire to break out, and no way to do that. And Mrs. Lidcote is trapped [too].’’

The adaptation by Shakespeare & Company’s Dennis Krausnick dates more than 20 years and has been somewhat revised for a smaller cast, Taylor-Williams says, but very few changes were required to move it forward a half-century in time.

“I’m not pointing a big red arrow at that. I’m just setting it there and saying, ‘See, Mrs. Wharton knew what was happening long before it was happening,’ which is what I’ve always suspected,’’ Taylor-Williams says. Wharton lived from 1862-1937.

They did change a reference to a portrait sitting for John Singer Sargent to one for photographer Richard Avedon, she says.

The Mount was home to Shakespeare & Company for more than 20 years, before an acrimonious split a decade ago. Longtime members tend to remember the years at The Mount as an idyll. The Salon was founded in 2009 to bring theatrical versions of Wharton’s work back to the site, but has also provided a bit of a rapprochement between the two organizations. The group produced “Xingu’’ at The Mount in 2009 and “Summer’’ in 2010.

Prusha was in those productions, too. And she grew up as an actress with Shakespeare & Company at The Mount, she says by cellphone just before a rehearsal. “So coming back and doing these is like coming home for me. Right now I’m sitting under a tree, by the stables at The Mount, and it’s like home.’’

And there’s even more resonance in the casting: Mrs. Lidcote’s daughter, Leila, is played by Prusha’s daughter Rory Hammond, who has also been in all three Wharton Salon shows and who made her stage debut at The Mount as a small child in Shakespeare & Company days.

“It’s wonderful,’’ says Prusha. “She grew up here at The Mount, so it’s really fun to come and do this, to work with her as an actor and watch her grow up and become an artist in her own right.’’

“How much further had we come?’’ says Diane Prusha, the longtime Shakespeare & Co. actor who plays Mrs. Lidcote. “Other than what the costume is, the look of it, I don’t find it that much different, I don’t find the sensibilities of the people that much different.’’

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