It's Alive!

It's Alive!

History Lit resembles 'Wicked' cousin but ponders wider themes of class, gender and society in historical setting

By Sara Cardine 05/10/2012

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History comes alive Friday, when Unbound Productions debuts its first full theatrical production of History Lit, the immersive, site-specific adaptations of three stories written by female authors and staged at Pasadena’s historic Fenyes estate.

Running through May 26, the productions feature a full cast, costumes and sets built on several locations to accommodate actors who dodge and weave as spectators follow in hot pursuit of moving storylines.

This historical jaunt through literary time and space comes from the makers of Wicked Lit, an annual Halloween-themed production that has audiences trekking through Altadena’s Mountainview Mausoleum.

But while Wicked Lit aims more specifically to chill, History Lit ponders wider themes of class, gender and society in three stories: “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Two Pictures in One” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Pasadena’s own Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

“All three of these stories are not just stories by female authors. They’re all stories that changed the way we think about our society,” says producer/director Jeff G. Rack who, along with partners Paul Millet and Jonathan Josephson, adapted the tales into plays for the occasion. “This is an event — it’s a whole experience. If people come once, they’ll know what it is.”

Like Wicked Lit, History Lit’s three productions make full use of period-specific scenes, spaces and acoustics throughout the Fenyes estate. Audiences are led by story guides, who provide helpful cues when its time to continue the narrative in a new location.

“We really let the venues and the stories inform each other. People are going to be hit by all of it and take away something different,” Josephson says.

In “The Garden Party,” adapted by Josephson, a young Laura Sheridan is called away from a lavish family party at the mansion when an unexpected accident befalls a stranger in a nearby cottage, threatening to change her forever.
Millet’s telling of “Two Pictures in One” juxtaposes two families — one white, one black — on the cusp of pivotal moments in America’s still-nascent history. A main room in the caretaker’s house on the grounds of the Fenyes estate houses a sort of dual stage, where audiences can view rotating, time-jumping storytelling.

In Rack’s adaptation of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an affluent woman is locked inside her bedroom as a cure for postpartum depression. Viewers get a ringside seat to her ensuing madness, which culminates in visions she decrypts from the patterns of the room’s wallpaper.

“They’re in the wall for the remainder of the show, they’re looking through it,” Millet explains of the audience’s final vantage point. “She’s reacting to something she sees in the walls, and the audience is the wallpaper.”

Unbound’s exciting husbandry of space and narration is one reason for Wicked Lit’s wide appeal, and producers have worked hard to impress History Lit with a similar brand.

“If you crave an experience that will engage and surprise you, this is it,” Josephson says.

History Lit runs Friday through May 26 at the Pasadena Museum of History. Tickets cost $39 to $49, with student discounts available. For more information, including ticket ordering and show times, call (818) 242-7910 or visit historylit.org.

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