Shakespeare Theatre Explores Life of George Eliot
Monday, September 23, 2013 • 9:56am
MADISON, NJ – Long gone, and partially forgotten no doubt by many, George Eliot was a challenging, disturbing author in her day.
Cathy Tempelsman’s play, “A Most Dangerous Woman,” explore the tempestuous life and long-time love affair of Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) with George Henry Lewes. The rigid attitudes towards propriety and ‘keeping women in their place’ were certainly evident in the 1850s.
This play deals with attitudes, covert emotions and truth in a way that was practically unheard of at the time. But the author of “Silas Marner,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Middlemarch” and “Adam Bede” is seen as a passionate, willful woman with a brilliant mind. She defied society and carried out her affair with Lewes despite public condemnation.
Richard Maltby, Jr. has directed a crisp, clear cast in this beautifully wrought tale of discovery. Aedin Moloney plays the lonely, often rejected Eliot who has been told she’ll never ‘catch’ a man because of her plain looks. She even writes under a pseudonym, sure that if a publisher knew she was a woman, her books would never be printed. But her fire and temperament soon set her apart from everyone else.
Ames Adamson as George Henry Lewes, although married with three children of his own and raising another three his wife had with someone else, also flaunts convention. He encourages and loves Eliot, despite their wandering life style in Germany and Scotland, avoiding the disapproval of London society. Adamson brings much warmth and charm to a play that has enough dismal, disapproving characters.
Eliot is spurned by her brother, Isaac, played with disdain by Rob Krakovski. Her friend Barbara Bodichon is beautifully conveyed by Deanne Lorette. She is as outspoken, as outrageous as Eliot and they share a common bond in their determination to live and work as they please. Barbara is an adventurous artist and is fetchingly costumed by Hugh Hanson. John Little is the publisher, John Blackwood, overwhelmed by Eliot’s stories and trying desperately to find out who this anonymous author really is.
Sheffield Chatain, Devin Norik, Andy Paterson and Meg Kiley Smith compose the rest of the ensemble in a variety of roles. In fact, the cast seems much larger than it really is, so when the group of eight comes out for curtain calls, it’s a surprise.
Several of the men don hoop skirts and fans to impersonate gossipy women. In other scenes, actors take on the parts of characters Eliot has written about. You can glimpse her genius, her attention to the country life of peasants, in these vignettes.
Nicholas Dorr has designed a smoothly shifting set with a few pieces of furniture to designate various locations. Tony Galaska’s lighting lends the right atmospheric notes. Sound designer Rich Dionne has interspersed melodies and arias that enhance the action.
All in all, this is a satisfying evening of an original play that sheds light on a writer who is rarely celebrated. It’s fascinating to see how poorly women were treated not that long ago. Everything works in this somber period piece. Tempelsman has described Eliot as “notoriously unattractive” and showing “a subversive streak in all her stories.”
“A Most Dangerous Woman” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, through Oct. 12. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.