by Michael Meigs
A Room with a View at Austin Playhouse in Lara Toner's graceful adaptation of Forster's novel is serene fun. An ungracious critic -- say, someone who regularly posted grumbling letters to the Times of London -- might ask why the Playhouse bothered to concoct a presentation of the style regularly served up by the BBC on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, but that imaginary critic would miss the point entirely. Another curmudgeonly observation might be that Mssrs Merchant and Ivory did the definitive cinema version back in 1985, certainly still available from video sources. One might even be able to stream it from Netflix.
The story itself is not the issue, for Forster's witty and sympathetic if somewhat patronizing portrayal of Lucy Honeychurch and those around her features amusing characters caught up in the most basic dramatic dilemma of all: who best deserves to make our sweet heroine happy? Most of us know exactly how it's going to turn out, and we willingly participate in the re-creation and recreation of that make-believe.
No, the response to that hypothetical critic is simple. It's symbolized by the contrast between your comfortable sofa or desk chair at home and the seat in the theatre. At home you may choose to sit alone or even in company to witness A Room with a View, passively absorbing a crafted vision identical in all respects for everyone who sees it. Or you may go to the theatre instead, where each comfortable seat with a view offers a subtly different experience and features actors who live and breathe and share the space with you. Last week I wrote of Zach's Laramie Project and the power of familiar faces. In Toner's staging of A Room with a View, actors well known to theatre-goers quite transform themselves from citizens of 2012 Austin to self-aware representatives of the educated English middle class of 1908, experiencing the threatening joys of Florence and then returning to bourgeois life in London.
That's the advantage of working with a repertory company, however loose. David Stahl is a jovial, good-hearted Anglican clergyman; Tom Parker is an abrupt, truth-speaking businessman; Rebecca Robinson serves as the spinster cousin charged with chaperoning young Lucy; Cyndi Williams is a colorful busybody woman novelist in the first act and the heroine's strait-laced mother in the second.