Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 12, 2011

Open Marriage

Ventfort Hall, Lenox, MA
through September 3, 2011
by Shera Cohen

Ventford Hall
For the past several summers, Ventfort Hall has hosted a one-woman biographical play. Except for history buffs, the subject is a person unheard of, yet important as one of colorful people who populated the Berkshires. This is the case with "Open Marriage," the life of Elsie Clews Parsons - a woman ahead of her time, highly educated, and a free-thinker. Being a wife and mother did not curtail her pursuit of unconventional adventure in her travels and in her bedroom.

"Open Marriage" is the labor of two women to design one success. Writer Juliane Hiam has penned the last three Ventfort plays. In the matter of 75 minutes, Hiam and Undeland create Elsie. The character not only ages, while never changing makeup, but also manages to keep one foot in the 21st century and the other in the early 20th. Undeland is obviously wedded to her role. She is this woman, particularly as she involves audience members in the script.

Last year's play was mounted in a semi-circle alcove in Ventfort's large entry. The setting was intimate and ideal for a small audience. Elsie, however, walks and trots around the library where the audience sits cabaret style. As much as this new venue perhaps evokes the character's free life - through the actress' movement and direct interaction with everyone in the room - the problem of where to watch the character is unanswered. Elsie is certainly a woman to keep one's eyes on, but it literally means constantly turning in your seat, craning your neck and/or moving the chair. Return to the alcove.

Ventfort is a hidden gem with much history, some of which is linked to JP Morgan. A suggestion is to plan time before the play to tour the Hall. The Berkshire Designer Showcase (runs through the fall) permits 14 local decorators free reign of one room each on the entire second floor. "Lovely" describes this summer mansion. Also, lovely is young teen tour guide Victoria Mason, who has drenched herself in knowledge of Ventfort since she was age 7. She is articulate and eager to tell the stories of the home and its former residents. And, if there's time, check the amazing doll exhibit.