MR. FULLERTON - Great Barrington Public Theater
Edith Wharton’s got man trouble. Not just with alcoholic and philandering husband Teddy, who takes off from their winter quarters in Paris, but also with a socially and sexually wily reporter for The London Times, Morton Fullerton, whose seductive charms plunge Edith into a torrid three year affair. That’s the premise of playwright Anne Undeland’s new play, “Mr. Fullerton”, being staged for the first time at Great Barrington Public Theater. Indeed, the younger lover (four years Edith’s junior) takes Edith places in bed she’s never been before. In a state of post-coital bliss, Edith queries, “Where did you learn to do that?” “Friends” demurs Fullerton. Friends, indeed, as back in London Fullerton has a string of dalliances with men (and boys) that makes him subject to blackmail.
More truths emerge about Fullerton, which he’s lied about to Edith. But it’s too late. Edith is a woman desperately, hopelessly in love. She can’t quit him. When dearest friend and confidante Henry James confronts Edith with the facts about Fullerton, their relationship is threatened, as is her relationship with her loyal, Irish made Posy, who can’t resist I-told-you-so.
There’s lots of delicious ingredients in “Mr. Fullerton” but, like a good cassoulet, it needs maturation. Dana M. Harrison does a fine job with Edith, but the part seems underwritten. Edith might not have been the most sexually experienced woman when Undeland’s play starts, but was undoubtedly a supremely confident, perhaps even haughty, highly sophisticated woman. In Undeland’s treatment she begins as ripe for psychological exploitation. Consequently, the change to a woman who nearly loses her senses and reason doesn’t realize a full arc. Marcus Kearns’ Fullerton emits appropriate, unctuous charm but the character needs to radiate more, well, sex. Myka Plunkett puts pitch-perfect spunk in the perky, street-smart Irish maid. Glenn Barrett’s Henry James is foppish, gay and elitist all in right proportion. Costumes by Brittany Belz are richly textured and period perfect.
Undeland’s script deserves some tightening-up. What’s more, the alley configuration of the “black box” theatre (and six stage entrances) at the Daniels Art Theatre at Simon’s Rock seems to retard the pacing. Still, the story is sprinkled with engaging literary and local detail: “House of Mirth” sold 150,000 copies in its initial run; James subscribes to the forerunner of the Pittsfield Eagle to keep up with Berkshire news; and James and Wharton jokingly spar on when spring arrives at The Mount in Lenox.
The play has huge moments: the confrontation between James and Wharton could beget a whole other play in itself. There's a profound allegory when, in recovering from the affair with Fullerton, Edith returns to her writing, and produces “Ethan Fromm”, the most darkly tragic of all her tragedies. “Mr. Fullerton” is full of possibilities. Hopefully, it will in future productions achieve its Whartonian dramatic potential.