Peyton Place at City Lit Theater | Theater review
A new adaptation of Grace Metalious’s scandalously soapy novel is overstuffed and under-specific.
When Grace Metalious’s novel Peyton Place was published in 1956, its sordid tales of extramarital affairs, incest and abortion put it on banned-book lists around the country. The controversy translated to huge sales, with the book staying on The New York Times best-seller list for 59 weeks; a film adaptation and TV soap opera followed.
Paul Edwards’s new adaptation condenses the sprawling domestic narrative into an overstuffed, overlong play. Despite its antiquated mores, Metalious’s story holds up. Yet as City Lit’s production races through plot points, many of the characters never fully form. Edwards makes teenage Allison MacKenzie (Catherine Gillespie) the focal point; she’s an aspiring writer who becomes a tool for meta-commentary when the play makes a five-year jump in Act II. Allison turns into a stand-in for the author, dealing with the sort of criticism Metalious received when she first tried to sell her book to publishers.
Considering how important the fictional New Hampshire locale is to the narrative, Jacob Watson’s set is jarringly ill-defined: The wooden boxes that represent the ramshackle house of Selena Cross (a moving Sara Renee Gilbert) also comprise Allison’s mother’s store; Allison’s bedroom is also the outdoor make-out spot Rock’s End. Edwards’s sound design is similarly incongruous, scoring romantic scenes with music that suggests a Hitchcock thriller. Peyton Place is a town full of dramatic potential, but City Lit’s staging doesn’t know which direction to take to get there.