They say that travel is good for the soul, and as Austin Playhouse's charming stage adaptation of E.M. Forster's "A Room With a View," playing now through April 22, demonstrates, it can be good for the heart, too.
Director Lara Toner's adaptation nicely captures the tone and tempo of Forster's third (and most optimistic) novel as it follows the story of young Lucy Honeychurch (Claire Ludwig) on her first trip abroad.
Accompanied by her officious older cousin Charlotte (Rebecca Robinson), Lucy must struggle to find herself in the face of stilted social expectations.
"A Room with a View" offers a glimpse of class difference and elite hypocrisy at the turn of the 20th century — when the grand tour was still the fashionable thing to do, when people were dubious of those who spoke their minds and when a momentary passionate embrace could spark a scandal.
Relatively new to the Austin theater scene, Ludwig is absolutely luminescent — we root for her character's emerging sense of self-awareness and are utterly charmed by the young ingenue.
The entire cast delivers engaging and energetic performances. David Stahl is charismatic as the atypical clergyman who finds beauty in indelicacy and hopes to see Lucy soar.
As Lucy's brother Freddy, Joey Banks charms the socks off his fellow characters, and Joey Melcher effectively captures the oddly reserved demeanor of the young George Emerson.
Tom Parker is completely endearing as the outspoken and tactless Mr. Emerson, winning the audience's hearts, as well as Lucy's (for his son).
The play reminds us how gorgeous the language of novels can be, and Toner's transposition from page to stage captures Forster's sentiments with aplomb.
However, Toner's narrative interjections are rather inconsistent, making them more distracting than informative — sometimes labeling a scene by its location, at other times providing commentary on the interaction to come. Similarly, the stage blocking is awkward at times, as is the use of set pieces.
Buffy Manners' costumes, however, are excellent — capturing the moment in history right down to the underwear.
Lucy's guidebook serves as a metaphor for her own evolution — just as Baedeker can't show her the "real" Italy, nor can the stuffy social pretensions of her social sphere help her make up her own mind.
Overall, "A Room with a View" is a nice little love story that contrasts the social expectations of whom one ought to care for with the force of discovering whom one really wants.