by Kris Lundberg
produced by Shakespeare’s Sister Company
directed by Jay Michaels
with Kris Lundberg and Greg Pragel

Elizabeth Siddal was a model for the Pre-Raphaelites. While posing as Ophelia for  John Everett Millais, she lay in a bathtub for hours on end. This led to pneumonia and then to an illness for which she was prescribed the opiate laudanum.

She later married another member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for whom she had come to model exclusively. Addicted to laudanum, she overdosed in a fit of jealously while her husband spent the evening (quite innocently) at an event.

Kris Lundberg has taken this intriguing story and penned it into a marvelous one-act two-hander, Muse. From the moment Greg Pragel enters as Rosetti, we know this’ll be good work. The playwright herself plays Miss Siddal, and the two actors show us their relationship with abandon and subtlety, as suits the moment, and with surety. Such is their skill that we forget we’re watching the story of famous people; we’re interested in them as human beings.

The setting is nearly always Rosetti’s studio, and we meet the two, suitably, at work, he at his easel, she in her pose. These are the circumstances throughout the early part of the relationship, and their banter early in the play is a marvelous game of testing as each probes to see if the other is to taste. We watch as the relationship intensifies and the two develop a history.

From time to time, between scenes, Rosetti addresses us. The technique, although embedded in the otherwise realistic play, seems natural, not intrusive.

Jay Michaels directs the whole thing allegretto, with a marvelous sense of gesture and image. Half mad with grief for her stillborn child, Liz rushes on stage with her red/gold hair streaming behind her, the picture of a madwoman.

Michaels makes a bold choice at a point when our pair, now married, have a heated argument. They shout at the same time, trying to top each other, so that we can’t understand what either is saying. It’s marvelous for several moments. Michaels moves beyond realism to expressionism. He knows that the fact of unpenned anger is more important than the content of the argument. The problem is that it goes on too long, after it’s had its emotional effect. It’s inspired but excessive.

Jessa-Raye Court’s costumes are resplendent. Some designs are based on the clothes Miss Siddal wore while posing, that can be seen in the paintings. The set is simple and handsome, bothering with no more than it needs to show.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Shakespeare’s Sister.

Steve Capra
August 2014

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