Directed by David Meglino
Set Design - Cindy Ernst
Costume Design - Caitlin Rain
Lighting Design - Jaymes Gregory
Sound Design - Pam Myers-Morgan
Prop Design - Rebekka Koepke and Lynne Mauldin
Dialect Coach - Elly Lindsay
Board Operator - Bryan Douglas
Emily Scott Banks - George Eliot
Russell Schultz - George Henry Lewes
Randy Pearlman - Isaac Evans
Scott Milligan - John Blackwood
Morgan Mcclure - Novel Woman
Adrian S. Churchill - George Combs
Jessica Cavanaugh - Barbara Bodichon
Brian Witkowicz - Herbert Spencer
Jordan Willis - Edward
Reviewed Performance 9/15/2011
Reviewed by Christopher Soden, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Though not exactly contemporaries, I think comparisons between George Eliot and George Sand (aka Amantine Lucile Dupin) are inevitable and useful. Both adopted male pseudonyms to shed constraints of culture and society which brought certain expectations to the idea of male and female authorship. Marian Evans wrote under the guise of "George Eliot" to escape the presumption that women were incapable of creating any novels of literary substance or moment.
Dupin most likely was influenced by the same forces of public opinion which might easily have dismissed her work had they known it was written by a woman. But while you might say that Evans merely flirted with transgender behavior, Dupin embraced it. She wore men's clothes frequently and publicly, smoked (a predominantly male habit at the time), was called George by her friends, and was openly bisexual. Evans, conversely, was George Eliot only in the abstract, and though her writing style supposedly reflected a "masculine" sensibility, she tested boundaries exclusively on the page.
Catherine Tempelsman's A Most Dangerous Woman is a biographical drama depicting the life of Marian Evans (aka George Eliot), one of the great English literary novelists who lived in the nineteenth century with her paramour, George Lewes. Her male nom de plume was acquired for practical reasons, unlike French writer, George Sand, she was less a social iconoclast than a rebellious artisan.
While she set up house with a married man and his three sons, she would have much preferred a more conventional arrangement with an actual legal husband. Make no mistake, Evans and Lewes were soul mates, and he provided the romantic bliss she'd have otherwise been denied. She simply failed to cultivate (for whatever reason) the "feminine" comportment necessary to attract most men in the time she lived. Again, she questioned society's restrictions in her work, but in her life, only in pragmatic ways.
There are so many ways to come at the fluid, enigmatic phenomenon we dimly grasp as gender. If Eliot was considered some sort of pioneer or anarchist it was only because she challenged the community's ideas about the source of particular qualities. We can certainly appreciate "ruggedness" and lack of embellishment but only if it emerges from a recognizably male source.
Eliot also questioned the need to only address the plights and problems of the aristocracy, though, arguably, this too, was easier to take from a male author. Templelsman played with ideas of subconscious creation, deception, and blurring the lines between the two genders. Men giggled girlishly in petticoats, and gossiped while women wielded cigars. Translucent curtains separated characters from Eliot's definitive books from the action on center stage. They occasionally delivered monologues, interspersed with the narrative of Eliot's passionate, often somber existence.
Tempelsman has taken some pains to keep this paean to George Eliot lively, provocative, versatile and energetic. The first act might bog down a small bit but for the most part it's sharp, engaging, poignant, surprising and sweet-natured without being candy-ass. For Echo Theatre's production, Emily Scott Banks, in the title role, is spot on. She's avid, poised, exhilarating and deeply touching. Banks is beyond impressive in this difficult, draining, demanding role, demonstrating meticulous range and brimming charisma.
The rest of the cast deftly directed by David Meglino is a joy to experience as well. Many are cast in multiple roles but they never lose focus, agility or spark. Especially memorable are Russell Schultz, Adran S. Churchill, Morgan McClure, Jessica Cavanaugh and Jordan Willis.
Set Designer Cindy M. Ernst has conceived a milieu that is minimal but never feels slight. Set pieces and furniture are shifted and removed according to the scene but this feels consistent with the transitory and volatile nature of Eliot's journey. I love the dreamlike "veils" on either side of the stage, only partially concealing the characters lurking on the perimeters of Eliot's subconscious.
Caitlin Rain's costumes are lush and fanciful, evoking the button-down culture in which Eliot subsisted and prevailed. The stark black dresses worn by Eliot herself embody her struggle to evince her femininity while remaining her own woman.
Cathy Tempelsman and Echo Theatre have forged a rich, captivating experience with A Most Dangerous Woman. It will hold your unwavering attention as the performers share their enthusiasm and dedication. Whether you see Eliot as a visionary in the transcendence of gender paradigms, or a genius who refused to accept the shackles of propriety and patriarchy, this show will provide a fascinating elaborate tapestry of the life of a writer who left the world better than she found it.
A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN
Echo Theatre at The Bath House Cultural Center
521 E. Lawther Drive, Dallas, TX 75218
Final Week - playing through September 24th
Thursday ? Saturday at 8:00 pm and Saturday matinee at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20 online and $25 at the door on Friday & Saturday $15 on Saturday matinee, and Thursday a Pay What You Can night.
For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.echotheatre.org or call 214-904-0500.