The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, nationally acclaimed for its productions of the plays of William Shakespeare and other classics, has launched the Fall portion of its 2013 season with a non-classic, the world premiere of A Most Dangerous Woman. Written by Cathy Tempelsman and directed by Tony-Award winner Richard Maltby, Jr., this is an outstanding play about an exceptional woman, George Eliot, starring an exceptional actress, Aedin Moloney (photo above). Ms. Moloney, making her Shakespeare Theatre debut, is absolutely perfect in the role of the famed Victorian author George Eliot (She is not only an actress with extensive stage and film credits, she is the founder and artistic director of The Fallen Angel Theatre Company in New York City with a long association at Irish Rep.).
For many of us, our first association with George Eliot was via English Lit. class in high school and college where her novel Silas Marner was required reading. Eliot, real name Mary Ann Evans, is also the author of Adam Bede, Middlemarch, and The Mill on the Floss. Although she had limited formal education, she achieved early success as a writer/editor for an important London publication at the age of thirty. Later, with the encouragement of her longtime lover George Henry Lewes (played with great style by Ames Adamson) she authored seven novels. The most popular, Middlemarch, has been described as the greatest novel in the English language.
No discussion of Eliot's talent as a writer is complete without recognition of the ofttimes cruel reception she received due her plain, unattractive appearance. She has been described as “a woman with next to no feminine beauty or charm or of countenance or person,” “exceedingly plain” and “magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous” by Henry James. Yet this is not a female version of The Elephant Man, certainly not as played by Aedin Moloney. Moloney is magnificent in this role and far from hideous. Yes, the expression "must-see" may be overused, but it applies to this play and this performance by Aedin Moloney. She may be the tiniest person on the stage, but she dominates every scene even with a simple nod of the head. A particular joy is the way she uses her unique, somewhat dark voice.
The play nicely explores Eliot's life after the age of thirty when she left rural England for a writing career in London ending in a scandalous 20 plus year relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes, the reason she adopted a pen name, and the auto-biographical nature of her writings. A clever device is employed during scene transitions by having the secondary actors moving across the stage or even down stage reciting brief lines from Eliot's novels, particularly, Middlemarch, illustrating Eliot's creative thoughts.
The playwright Cathy Tempelsman offers these comments; “Out of the isolation she suffers – born of her own passion and need – she develops a preternatural insight into hidden and secret lives and the suffering of ordinary men and women, who, dramatically, are as rich and compelling as the kings and queens we find in Shakespeare,” “She was the most brilliant, fascinating person I had ever read about – her life was entirely modern and unconventional. I just felt that such a dramatic, controversial life belonged in the theatre.” Her play A Most Dangerous Woman was a finalist for the 2013 Terrence McNally New Play Award, given to an American script which celebrates the transformative power of art. It also won the Echo Theatre (Dallas, TX) national play writing competition.
The excellent supporting cast includes John Little who plays John Blackwood, Eliot’s publisher; Rob Krakovski as Isaac Evans, George Eliot’s brother; Deanne Lorette as Eliot's best friend Barbara Bodichon; Sheffield Chastain as the writer Herbert Spencer; Andy Paterson is George Combe the phrenologist; Devin Norik is Edward, a publishing house clerk and Meg Kiley Smith as the Woman Reader.
Director Richard Maltby, Jr.'s creative team: composer David Shire (original incidental music); set designer Nicholas Dorr; costume designer Hugh Hanson; sound designer Rich Dionne; lighting designer Tony Galaska and dialect consultant Stephen Gabis. Kathy Snyder is the production stage manager.
A Most Dangerous Woman will continue through October 12th. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The play runs two hours and thirty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission.
Tickets range from $35 to $70; student rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to curtain for $15. For tickets or more information, call 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org. Groups of 10 or more are eligible for discounts. The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue in Madison, New Jersey.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio Thursday September 26, 2013