A Moon to Dance By
Jane Alexander gives a glorious performance as Frieda Lawrence in this repetitive biodrama.
The play, solidly directed by Ed Sherrin, takes place on a ranch near Taos, New Mexico, in 1939 during four days of a visit from Frieda's now-grown son Monty Weekley (the exquisitely embarrassed Gareth Saxe), who achingly shows his little boy hurt late in the play. So good is the scene where Monty has a toddler's temper tantrum after bluntly confronting his mother about her actions that one wishes it were the whole play. Instead, we must wait to see how the visit will go, but whether or how much Monty will be able to accept Frieda is not that compelling a question for a two-hour play.
To keep the action moving forward, Thomas invents a mystery about what happened to Monty's older sister Barbie when she visited her mother some years ago. But we know that Barbie is fine now, which makes the long-ago weirdness irrelevant, and Monty's obsession with it contrived. The coming of World War II also adds tension, since Angelo is an alien and Frieda is German-born; but we also shortly learn that she's still a British subject, so this is yet another plot point that fizzles.
The production tries to compensate for the play's deficiencies: the clever set design by Stephanie Mayer-Staley includes a grotesque painted tree and bright stars; Steve Shapiro's sound design includes evocative offstage chanting; and Simon Cummings' incidental music is lovely. Still, it doesn't help matters that D.H. Lawrence is absent as well as dead; we hear book titles, but we don't hear even one sentence read out. Without the weight of his work, Frieda's love for the great man lacks impact, as does her status as muse and inspiration for Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sons and Lovers.
Nonetheless, there are some insights here about family dynamics, and the glorious Alexander offers a feast for acting lovers.