After the Fair, Apple Tree Theatre. Edith has reconciled herself to a boring life with her stodgy husband, but when she's pressed by her unlettered maid into writing love letters to the maid's educated swain, everyone is affected. Thomas Hardy's "On the Western Circuit" ends with all of them mired in irreversible disappointment, but out of this short story Stephen Cole and Matthew Ward have fashioned a bittersweet musical fable aglow with romantic longing and nostalgic poignancy that concludes on a note of resignation tempered with hope.
The melodies of Ward's undeniably Sondheim-esque score, with its long recitatives and unexpected intervals, are integrated with rather than superimposed on Cole's book, which adheres to its source material with remarkable accuracy. Under the direction of Travis Stockley, this midwest premiere production is exquisitely crafted, featuring a sturdy cast led by Mary Ernster. Hardy's criticism of his society's restrictions still resonates today in this intelligent, articulate, and only slightly revisionist interpretation. --Mary Shen Barnidge