May 10, 2002

Shakespeare & Company Opens its Second World Premiere
The Valley of Decision
Spring Lawn theatre
May 24 – September 1

{Lenox Center, MA} – Following its early season opener, Golda’s Balcony, Shakespeare & Company introduces another new work to Spring Lawn Theatre during Memorial Day weekend: The Valley of Decision. Adapted by Dennis Krausnick from Edith Wharton’s first novel, published in 1902, The Valley of Decision is directed by Rebecca Holderness. Previews begin Friday, May 24. Performances run through September 1. Press Opening is Saturday, June 1 at 8:00 pm.

For tickets and information, contact the Box Office at (413) 637-3353 (open every day 10:00 am - 2:00 pm or curtain time of the day’s final performance). Order tickets on-line at The turn-of-the-century Spring Lawn mansion is wheelchair accessible and offers student, senior, and group rates.

S&Co founding member and Director of Training Dennis Krausnick has acted, written, directed, and taught with the Company for 25 years. He has been instrumental in the creation and development of the Company’s internationally-acclaimed training programs and has adapted or created more than 30 of Edith Wharton’s works, including several by her contemporary, Henry James. Krausnick is currently preparing a volume of Edith Wharton stage adaptations for publication.

"This is the only novel that Edith wrote that is a historical romance," says Krausnick. "It explores a period of history and a locale that was foreign to her contemporary readers, in an Italy that was not in her lifetime, or even in her mother’s lifetime. The Valley of Decision is the only novel that grapples so specifically with a set of political and philosophical conundrums. Edith had been travelling in Italy since she was a little girl; she spoke Italian and knew 18th century art, architecture, and literary art inside and out. The novel was an intellectual exercise that had attracted her as a young artist, not that she was young when she began it, but that her artistic style was still young."

The Valley of Decision follows the life of a young man, Odo Valsecca, born into minor aristocracy, who finds himself unexpectedly thrust toward the ducal throne of an imaginary Lombard duchy. Having lived an impoverished childhood, he is then trained as a soldier and given an education that becomes a young man about to inherit a throne in 18th century Italy. His education includes exposure to the great writers of the Enlightenment and to the political and philosophical implications suggested by those writers. Among his teachers is a man who espouses learning and freedom of thought, and with whose daughter, Fulvia Vivaldi, Odo falls utterly in love. This is where the stage adaptation begins.

Odo and Fulvia become separated for three years. During this time, the ducal crown of Pianura, the reigning state of Italy, becomes Odo’s. However, political and religious forces beyond their control reunite the couple once again. Together they struggle to bring about reform to the feudal society which crushes the hopes and lives of the vast majority of an impoverished population, whose suffering supports the luxury and whimsy of a tiny group of aristocrats. Odo and Fulvia create an enlightened Constitution (based on a smuggled copy of the Declaration of Independence) that galvanizes their love and dreams for the future of their country. Against the warnings of the aristocracy, the clergy, and the ducal household, the couple plans the announcement of the Tuscan Constitution, to inform the people of their rights. The response of the people sets a tide of events in motion that not even the great Duke Odo Valsecca can turn back.

"In reading Edith Wharton, and therefore in adapting and directing a play fashioned from Wharton, we come into direct confrontation with her intellect; with her ideas," says director Holderness. "This beautiful house (Spring Lawn) is a tribute to privilege, and as the actors move through it we think of the relationship between the house and its history, the spaces we all inhabit, and how this particular house might be situated within the Lenox community. It's fascinating to work on a story that was written by an early 20th century writer about 18th century class struggle, and to perform it in a turn-of-the-century house with 21st century actors."

The Valley of Decision marks Holderness’ fourth season with the Company, where her directing credits include Glimpses of the Moon, Henry IV part 1 (asst. director), and performing the role of Olivia in Twelfth Night (Summer Training Institute). Off-Broadway: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Lincoln Center Institute Tour); Twelfth Night or What You Will, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Rover (Lincoln Center Theatre Institute for her own company, Holderness); Riddles of Bamboo (Lincoln Center Theatre Lab); Cymbeline, A Winter’s Tale, (Holderness/the Salon); One Million Butterflies (Julliard); Nervous Splendor (Tweed); Edward II (NYU/ETW). European credits: Compagnie Image at Aigue/Paris, and Otello with Andrei Serban at Choregies Dâ Orange/France. Rebecca teaches at the Experimental Theater Wing, NYU, CAP21, and The New School.

"The characters are very Flaubert-like," says Krausnick, "in that they make strong choices yet they are destroyed by those choices. Edith wrote point-to-point, following her nose through; she had no ability to edit herself. I was attracted to adapting the novel because of the extraordinary ideas, not particularly because of the writing. What piqued my interest the most was the mix of classes, and the multiplicity of levels of the society and the battle between reason and fundamentalism -- much like the world we live in now."

The cast of seven includes Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Fulvia Vivaldi, Michael Burnet as Carlo de Gamba, Andrew Borthwick-Leslie as Count Alfieri, Lon Troland Bull as Father Orazio De Crucis, Mel Cobb as Count Trescorre, Ethan Flower as Odo Valsecca, and Catherine Taylor-Williams as The Duchess Maria Clementina.

The Company’s 25th Anniversary season also celebrates Krausnick and Wharton later in the summer with The Wharton Centennial Celebration. The Celebration features three of Krausnick’s best-loved adaptations of Wharton: Ethan Frome (July 31), Summer (August 1), and The Fiery Rain (August 2), acted by many of the same actors who originally performed them at the Company’s previous home of 25 years, The Mount.

At A Glance

Production: The Valley of Decision in Spring Lawn Theatre

Director: Rebecca Holderness

Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Andrew Borthwick-Leslie, Lon Troland Bull, Michael Burnet, Mel Cobb, Ethan Flower, Catherine Taylor-Williams.

Costume Designer: Jennifer Halpern

Lighting designer: Stephen D. Ball

Scenic Designer: Lauren Kurki

Sound Designer: Jason Fitzgerald

Dates: Previews: May 24, 25, 26 and 31 at 8:00 pm & 2:00 pm;

Press Opening: June 1 at 8:00 pm.

Tickets: $24-$48 in two reserved seating sections; Student, Senior, and Group Rates Available.

Box Office: (413) 637-3353;

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