What memories an old photograph can conjure up. The men who built those little cottages in Lenox in their derby hats were tycoons and scoundrels by day, refined at night. Their model wives found ways to expand their own enjoyment of life while maintaining proper decorum. Of course the tea was served “just so” – one lump or two? – when necessary, but corsets and rules can barely tame the libido. For many trapped in that age, it would find a way of expressing itself despite the rigid constraints of HRH Queen Victoria. When one visits such great buildings from the Gilded Age as Ventfort Hall in Lenox, the eyes widen in appreciation of the opulence, the lavish attention to detail, but one begins to wonder what sort of lives were lived there.
The wonderful actress and storyteller Anne Undeland has some insights and has been sharing them over the past few years in her annual one-woman show. Each summer she and her collaborators focus on a historic individual to weave a story around and in the process bring the past back to life. This year Julianne Hiam has written the tale of Elsie Clews Parsons, born in 1874 New York, and who married a four time Republican representative to Congress. This was before the family values and religious right more or less took over the party. Still, Elsie made lots of waves.