(Theater Review) ‘Paris 1890s: Unlaced!’ at Ventfort Hall

Anne Undeland gets sexy in 'Paris 1890s Unlaced' (photo Kevin Sprague)

Ventfort Hall
Lenox, Mass.
Paris 1890: Unlaced!
Written by Juliane Hiam
Directed by Sarah Taylor
Starring Anne Undeland

Runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 4, Sundays at 10 am (no performance Saturday, Aug. 29) through September 6, 2009

All tickets are $22; discounts available for groups of ten or more.

For further information and to purchase tickets call Ventfort Hall at 413.637.3206.

 

Reviewed by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., July 20, 2009) — The summer theater season has featured several outstanding performances by female actresses in one-woman shows, including Tina Packer’s Shirley Valentine and Annette Miller’s Golda Meir, both at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. Both veteran actresses are known for these roles, which they have been performing for years.

Which makes it all the more exciting to discover a new play and a newly created role originated right here in the Berkshires. Paris 1890: Unlaced!, written by Berkshire native Juliane Hiam and starring the lusciously delectable Anne Undeland, is currently running at the Ventfort Hall Museum of the Gilded Age, also in Lenox.

Co-produced by Shakespeare & Company, the play features a tour-de-force performance by Undeland, who takes on half a dozen roles in a little over an hour and acquits herself brilliantly, playing everything from a contemporary museum director to a seamstress to a late-nineteenth century upscale prostitute, or courtesan, as they were known back then, and as her character insists upon being called.

Hiam’s script is witty and smart and does a great job connecting the setting and experience of seeing the play at Ventfort Hall with the story of the risqué side of life during the Gilded Age in Paris in the 1890s. This was obviously part of Hiam’s commission, and she accepts the challenge and pulls it off with aplomb. Nothing seems forced about the fact that a mystery begins with a dress discovered at Ventfort Hall, where we – supposed board members of the Gilded Age museum – sit and receive a report from the director. (Nothing against Ventfort Hall’s wonderful real-life director, Jeffrey Folmer – who is a great guy and is doing a terrific job revitalizing the property — but Anne Undeland is a lot more pleasing and fun to watch than he is!)

In just a little over an hour, Undeland keeps her multiple monologues on track, assuming roles from all walks of life in Parisian society. It’s a sexy role, and in one way or another, the subject is often about sex, as the title hints. You haven’t been titillated yet this summer quite the way you will be when you hear the delightful French phrase “soixante-neuf” flow knowingly and mischievously from Undeland’s tongue. Like Packer and Miller, Undeland is a commanding presence who brings equal parts confidence and charisma to her performance, such that you can be forgiven for staring.

After all, that’s what Mme. La Crème would have wanted you to do. And it’s an indication of the wholesale triumph that is this entertaining and provocative evening of original, alternative theater at Ventfort Hall.

Seth Rogovoy is Berkshire Living’s editor-in-chief and award-winning critic-at-large.

 

 

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