Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 8, 2010

Enjoy "Summer" this summer


Interview with Wharton Salon co-founder Catherine Taylor-Williams

What is the goal of The Wharton Salon Theatre? How is it different from other theatres?

The Wharton Salon's purpose is to produce the stories of Edith Wharton and her contemporaries as plays in her home, The Mount. It's different than other theatres in that we don't perform in a traditional theatre building. As a theatre artist, I find older buildings much more interesting than modern theatres, in that they are living buildings with a history of their own to bring to the story. It's even better when both the stories and the building were the creation of the same person. Mrs. Wharton's home is our "set." This working-class Berkshire story is performed in a former Stable that was converted into a theatre. The Salon follows in a tradition of performing Wharton's stories as plays, pioneered by Shakespeare & Company. But we're setting off on our own journey.

What is your role with the theatre and why is it important to you?

I am the Founder of The Wharton Salon and one of two co-producers, the other is Lauryn Franzoni. The Mount's staff is also an active partner. Dennis Krausnick, Shakespeare & Company's Director of Training, is the Salon's chief playwright and adaptor of the stories as plays. I will direct Summer. The traditional roles of Artistic Director, Managing Director, Producer are changing and merging. I think this is ultimately good for the art and its management.

There are many clich├ęs about why theatre is important. I believe human beings primarily learn and identify with stories. Wharton's stories are important to me because they speak about the roots of the modern woman and what women struggled with in the turn of the last century and early 20th century. She also tackles huge questions for both men and women.

What is the story of Summer and what kinds of audiences would it appeal to? Why was this play selected for this particular summer in the Berkshires?

Summer is a novella of Wharton's - a lovely book to read (or play to see) in summertime. It was written in France in 1917 looking back at an earlier time in America. It's a story that captures the imagination of many people. It's a kind of Berkshire myth, with the same mysterious attraction that so many of us feel for this part of the world.

The story is the coming of age of a young woman set in perfect timing with the course of a summer season in the Berkshires. Wharton gives a very frank and unromantic conclusion to the story. I appreciate it very much, but it tends to knock the socks off of the romantics in the audience. I hope it will cause some discussion. Summer is not about the upper classes and has a very down-to-earth feel compared to a lot of her other writing. It's great to be doing the play in the Stables, a much earthier location too than the Salon. It shows a whole other side of Wharton, one that I think we need to be reminded of when thinking of her writing. She may have a posh upbringing, but she was no prude.

Edith Wharton's Summer, adapted by Dennis Krausnick, will take place at The Mount, Lenox, MA from August 18 - 29. Seating is limited. For reservations call 413-551-5113 or check www.edithwharton.org