Monday, September 30, 2019

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Howards End

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Howards End. It was adapted by Douglas Post from the novel by E.M. Forster, and it was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a woman named Margaret Schlegel (Eliza Stoughton), who was very close to a woman, Ruth Wilcox, whose dying wish was to have Margaret inherit Howards End from her. However, Ruth's family decides to ignore her wishes about the property. Margaret and her sister Helen (Heather Chrisler), end up being very close to the Wilcox family after this betrayal, of which they are unaware. The sisters meet a man named Leonard (Terry Bell) after a concert, and they want to help him better his financial situation so he can be as artistic as he can be. This show is about money, intelligence, and the inequality of straight romantic relationships. I think this show is empowering and captivating, and I liked it.

I thought the women's relationships were very interesting to look at in this show. Dolly Wilcox (Emily Tate) sees other women as a threat and Jacky Bast (Jodi Kingsley) sees them as competition. We feel the relationship between Margaret and Ruth, even though we never see it, because it very clearly influenced Margaret. Her opening monologue describes her relationship with Ruth and the time they spent together. Ruth was a comforting presence in Margaret's life. I don't think Margaret thought she was as important to Ruth as she really was because Ruth wasn't a very expressive person, and Margaret didn't know about the gift of Howards End, which would represent independence from male figures, freedom from marriage, and a place for her and her sister to feel safe. The sisters's relationship reflects Margaret's with Ruth, but Margaret takes on the role of Ruth, by becoming Helen's sanctuary. In fact Howards End is a place where women can feel safe, but also independent. I think the key thing is that they don't feel like they are hiding at Howards End, they feel safe, and independently so. Howards End is a system of female inheritance that has been thrown off by toxic masculine systems and by the women who feel safer within those masculine systems.

The production elements were visually striking. During Margaret's opening monologue, there were all these people standing around with umbrellas. When the scene ended, they bustled along like nothing had happened, which shows how everyone is moving on after Ruth's death, but Margaret is stuck because she doesn't have the property from Ruth that would give her independence. It also shows that Margaret is more of a "noticer" than other people. I liked how every setting used many similar elements (furniture, floor, and walls). At first it seemed like it was just because they understandably didn't have time in transitions to change the whole set. But later I understood the effect it has to unsettle the audience and make us feel like Margaret, Helen, and Leonard, who are all searching for home. Margaret, Helen, and Leonard discover that a place can feel like home, but it has more to do with the people in the place. Helen feels like home to Leonard. Her sister is home to Helen, and Howards End is only really a home for Margaret when her sister is there. Even when they sleep outside, they feel like they are at home together.

Leonard Bast is a victim of society and circumstance. Even when the Schlegel sisters try to help him, they don't really understand his situation. They sit around being intellectuals all the time, and they want him to be able to do what they do because they see he is a very smart person. But the problem with that is that they are not giving him the one thing that they have that he doesn't--an independent income. If they had stayed out of his life, the tragic events that follow probably wouldn't have happened. The play seems to be saying that you should help unfortunate people but with the thing they need not with unrealistic expectations without support.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist sanctuaries, indirect but specific narratives about society, and symbolic umbrellas. I think this is a really intriguing show. It had so many interesting connections that I loved dissecting. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

No comments: