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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Most Dangerous Woman

I've examined hundreds of people, Miss Evans, but this is remarkable. You have an enormous organ. It's unbelievably big! Why, if I had my eyes closed, I would have assumed this to be the organ of a man! — Mr Combe, a phrenologist talking to her about her head

dangerous woman
Aedin Moloney and Ames Adamson
"That's right," I had to remind myself as I looked at the program notes. The play A Most Dangerous Woman by Cathy Tempelsman is about George Eliot and not George Sand. Now that I had that settled, I can see where my mind must have been. These were two women who are celebrated for bringing to the fore the right of a woman to gain recognition and reveal a new perspective in the literary world not generally accepted in the mid 19th century.

The French bi-sexual Sand, whose real name wass Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin, was inclined to make a more public statement with her fashion preference by wearing trousers and complimentary attire. On the other hand, the English, emphatically heterosexual Eliot, whose real name wass Mary Anne Evans, kept what would considered her masculine sensibility confined to the pages of her novels notably Adam Bede,Silas Marner,The Mill on the Floss, and Middlemarch.

Mary Anne (Aedin Moloney) was hardly dangerous but considered a potential threat to society by phrenologist Mr. Combe (Andy Paterson) because of the bumps and lumps he discovers in an early scene. She is not the sort of young and ambitious young woman about to let this revelation define who she is and will become. Aware of not being either pretty or a likely catch for a young man of position, she had a zest for life that was apparently attractive enough to an early beau Herbert Spencer (Sheffield Chastain). He was, however, an insensitive twit who will desert her when she suggests marriage.

With the death of her parents, Mary Anne does not like to be under the thumb of her stiff-necked, autocratic older brother Isaac (Rob Krakovski), who nevertheless drifts disagreeably in and out of her life. Defying his orders to "come and be useful at home," she rented a room from a philandering married publisher (unseen) for whom she works as an editor of his literary journal. There she met and fell in love with the married culture critic cum dabbler in biological research George Henry Lewes (Ames Adamson). They are almost instantly smitten with each other, although George cannot get a divorce.

Lewes, as robustly played by Adamson, is instantly likable and cuts a dashing figure with his wavy golden hair and trimmed mutton chops. For reasons aside from admitting to being "plucky," they agree to defy the rules of society and begin an affair that turns into a long-term relationship. In that this play is essentially a story of the future George Eliot's struggle to be success in a predominantly man's world, with an allowance made for the Bronte sisters (about whom Eliot has some choice words), it is as a remarkable love story that the play evolves and amuses.

Much of the play is devoted to the couple's living as man and wife and playing house, while she, inspired by him, hones her writing skills. She allows George, who is a great promoter, to get her stories published with great success under her nom de plume. The bulk of the biographical play's content revolves around the difficulty in keeping her identity a secret.

It was a great to see Moloney again in a splendid role so soon after her terrific performance last season in Airswimming at the Irish Repertory Company. Founder and artistic director of the Fallen Angel Theatre Company, Moloney does not come close to having the "equine" look attributed to Eliot in the text, or as it is also somewhat validated in the vintage photo in the program. Small boned with sharp features, Moloney is quite adorable and certainly persuasive.

Episodic in structure, but fluidly staged and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., A Most Dangerous Womanprogresses through a handsomely effective production designed by Nicolas Dorr that whisks us around London and the coast of Scotland. The Victorian era costumes by Hugh Hanson are period-perfect. One doesn't have to be a reader of Eliot (although it might help) to enjoy the short passages that spring from Mary Anne's mind from selected novels and that are enacted in the background.

A funny touch finds some of the male actors doubling as a gaggle of gossiping women giggling behind fans en travestie, with only the hardware of the hoop dresses tied to their waists. Two of the manny small well acted roles are especially vivid: Devin Norik as a young clerk and Deanne Lorette, as Mary Ann's friend and feminist activist.

For many, I suspect, A Most Dangerous Woman will be less enlightening about women in rebellion than as an introduction to an incredibly talented woman who was fortunate to be encouraged and empowered by one supportive and loving man.

A Most Dangerous Woman
By Cathy Tempelsman
Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.

Cast: Ames Adamson (George Henry Lewes), Sheffield Chastain (Herbert Spencer & others), Rob Krakovski (Isaac Evan & others), John Little (John Blackwood & others), Deanne Lorette (Barbara Bodichon & others), Aedin Moloney (George Eliot), Devin Norik (Edward and others), Andy Paterson (George Combe & others), Meg Kiley Smith (Woman reader & others).
Scenic Designer: Nicholas Dorr
Costume Designer: Hugh Hanson
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Sound Designer: Rich Dionne
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ
(973) 408 - 5600
Tickets: $35.00 - $70.00
Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
From 09/18/13 Opened 09/21/13 Ends 10/12/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/22/13 .
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