The Theater: Nights Before Christmas

Portrait of a Lady (adapted from Henry James's novel by William Archibald), which closed at week's end, was almost foredoomed to fail in the theater.

For stage purposes, James's famous novel uses too broad a canvas, possesses too subterranean a flow, treats of too complexly simple a heroine. And without the prose and insights that give it distinction in book form, Portrait comes off a waxwork.

In Portrait, as so often elsewhere, James dramatized the impact of Europe on a fresh, responsive American nature.

He contrasted 19th century American "innocence" with Old World decadence and guile. Assured, high-mettled Isabel Archer wants ardently to live...

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