VANITY FAIR, Lifeline Theatre. In a season teeming with misguided treatments of classics, Lifeline Theatre’s innovative adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s famous tale stands virtually alone. Transposing the story of an orphan determined to make good in a materialistic society from 1840s England to 1980s America underlines the parallels between the two cultures–the analogies are uncanny–and adapter Christina Calvit and director Judy O’Malley have thought through their metaphor to the smallest detail. Here Becky Sharp traces her humble origins to the Ozark Mountains, the lecherous Pitt Crawley III is a Dallas oil baron, the father of the saintly Amelia Sedley is a stockbroker who loses his fortune in the crash of 1987, and the caddish George Osborne meets his undeserved hero’s death in the 1983 Beirut incident.

The 11 members of the cast play over two dozen characters with the protean flexibility that has become Lifeline’s stock-in-trade, led by Catherine O’Connor as the beautiful, Macchiavellian Becky and Steve Totland as Thackeray himself, who guides us through his narrative with irresistible charm. Margaret Morettini’s scrumptious costumes, Peter Gottlieb’s disco-runway lighting, and Suzanne Plunkett’s well-chosen slides evoke sometimes the distant quaintness of the Victorian era, sometimes the brassiness of the Reagan years–a time that today seems almost as alien and otherworldly as 19th-century England, though Totland’s narrator takes pains to bring it home, mischievously locating Amelia’s destitute family in a house “just a few blocks” from the theater. Chalk up another demonstration of superb ensemble work to this stellar troupe, and go see a refreshing exception to what’s threatening to become this year’s rule.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzanne Plunkett.