The House of Mirth Closes Book-It's Season (Broadway World)
Lily Bart, the lovely, impoverished and stubbornly single heroine of Edith Wharton's 1905 dark bestseller The House of Mirth, is a character destined for disappointment. Trapped in a society where women are "brought up to be ornamental," she's torn between her desire for a carefree gilded existence and her desire for the unthinkable: a marriage based on love. And unfortunately, at age 29, her shelf life is about to expire. Lily's plight is the heart of Wharton's scathing account of high society, The House of Mirth, which runs April 20 -May 13 at Book-It Repertory Theatre's Center House Theatre.
Adapted by Marcus Goodwin and directed by Jane Jones, The House of Mirth is set in the Gilded Age of 1905 New York, a world of great wealth, great poverty, and more than anything else, great greed.
"The culture that Edith Wharton writes about is very nouveau riche," says Jane Jones, director. "They don't have the experience or grace of knowing how to be rich, of how to act, or how to treat people. There's a lot of measuring up, a ton of greed. They basically eat each other alive. People are terrified of what might happen to them, because things are changing so incredibly fast. Everyone is very guarded about their money and yet they flaunt it shamelessly. They're consumers, in all senses of the word."
Lily Bart is only too aware of her own status as a hot commodity. But her vanity is only one of her fatal flaws. Her naiveté also plays a part in her slow spiral down, as does society's penchant for celebrating and then denigrating its "chosen ones".
"Lily Bart is a celebrity because of her great beauty," says Jones."She's put on this pedestal, but the pedestal is actually a gilded cage; she has no freedom. And unfortunately, once you're on that pedestal, there's only one place to go and that's down. For whatever reason, as a society we celebrate that. Just look at the tabloids where you can read about Jennifer Aniston losing her husband or Lindsey Lohan's drug addiction because she didn't know how to deal with fame and money."
Does that mean Lily Bart is essentially the Jennifer Anniston or Lindsey Lohan of her day?
"Lily Bart is no different,' says Jones. "She's gotten herself into debt through her gambling addiction and she's also addicted to the high life. She's naïve and ignorant as to what the cost of fame and celebrity is, of what it costs to stay in that circle. And if you look at the rich now, nothing's changed. Living in that world costs, sometimes it costs your life."