Precious Bane, Lifeline Theatre. Meryl Friedman's faithful, sensitive adaptation of Mary Webb's 1924 novel, rich with reverence for nature and a country wisdom ("Saddle your dreams afore you ride 'em"), is matched by her equally warmhearted staging.
Webb's highly satisfying story, worthy of the Brontes, is set in Shropshire in the early 19th century. Prudence Sarn is a young woman with a harelip, which to the villagers is a sign she's a witch. But Prue's nature is generous: a servant to her ambitious brother Gideon, who's smugly certain she'll never marry, Prue sacrifices for others without a qualm, defending everyone but herself. Then she stumbles onto a happiness long deserved and never sought: a weaver noble enough to see the true Prue. Webb and Friedman perfectly balance this fairy-tale poetic justice against a psychologically realistic resolution as heartbreaking as the one in Sense and Sensibility.
Friedman's inspired production offers her own original music (tenderly played by Joseph Harvey), Eric Lane Barnes's supple arrangements of period folk songs, Mary Badger's moonlit or burnished lighting, Margaret Morettini's care-worn costumes, and Alan Donahue's delicate hanging forest. Consuelo Allen makes Prue a life-size life force, rooted in a bedrock decency. Direct and intense, Anne Wakefield is moving as the older Prue, who narrates, and as Prue's toil-ridden mother; and Joao de Souza is a believable Shropshire-style Prince Charming. David Solovieff never succumbs to melodrama as he relentlessly subverts the greed-driven Gideon, while Marci Kipnis as the girl he wrongs slowly sinks into sorrow. --Lawrence Bommer