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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Moon To Dance By
Yes, Frieda was the cousin of the German pilot known as "the red baron" ) but more famously known as the mistress and then wife of author D.H. Lawrence and the inspiration for the women in his novels (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Women in Love, Sons and Lovers, etc.) Frieda was married to Ernest Weekley, a professor at Nottingham University, when she deserted him and her 12 year-old son Monty and his two sisters in 1912 to be with Lawrence.
But Thomas's play is only indirectly concerned with Frieda's relationship with Lawrence, whom she married in 1914 shortly after her divorce. It focuses on her affair with Angelo Ravagli (Robert Cuccioli) her devoted and much younger but just as hot-blooded Italian lover, and also with her long-estranged stiff-necked British-raised 39 year-old son Monty Weekley (Gareth Saxe). What a combustible and contrasted trio they make in a play that speculates very perceptively about a meeting between these otherwise very real people. Lawrence, who died in 1930 at the rather young age of 45, actually initiated and encouraged Frieda's affair with Angelo after he had become impotent.
The play is set at the Lawrence ranch near Taos, New Mexico. The year is 1939, Monty, now married with children, has come from England to effect, if not a reconciliation, a personal coming-to-terms with his mother as well as with his long pent-up feelings of hate and abandonment. War clouds are forming and there is the possibility that Frieda and her Italian lover, officially aliens, will be under the scrutiny of the allies.
However scorned by Victorian society for her behavior, Frieda remained true to her nature, being in a virtual state of perpetual ecstasy for living life as she wanted and for loving whom she pleased without regrets. Has the time at last come when she might be able to re-bond with the openly hostile and resentful Monty? And is her fulfilled impassioned life with Angelo, who also abandoned a wife and children, threatened by separation because of the impending war?
The playwright considers this episode in Frieda's life at a time that is ripe for speculation and marked by uncertainty. Middle-aged Frieda is as ferociously committed to her passions in middle age as ever and we see her as an unapologetically sensuous and free-spirited woman. Alexander, who first shot to prominence and received a Tony Award in 1968 for Broadway's The Great White Hope, is unquestionably seductive in the role.
Alexander's work has often been helmed by her husband/director Ed Sherin who has again inspired a performance by Alexander that (as the title infers) is as luminous as the moon that shines above the three emotionally volatile people in designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley's lovely patio-on-the-desert setting (atmospherically lit by Andrew David Ostrowski). Affecting a slight German accent, Alexander is near to heart-breaking as she tries to break the ice with Monty by furtive embraces and earnest explanations for her desertion. Even more exciting to watch is the way Alexander responds in kind to Angelo's rages and then playfully lures him into submission with her beckoning charm.
Saxe, who recently portrayed Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, uses a refined British accent to support Monty's rigidity and his seemingly inflexible nature. But Monty's armor is bound to be cracked, and through Saxe's complexly revealed portrayal we see the full force of his unleashed anguish. Notwithstanding that Angelo is the most level-headed and humor-endowed of the three, the mustached Cuccioli affords us the opportunity to see the good-looking lover as a stabilizing force and as Frieda's equal in all things pertinent and passionate. With its bracingly portrayed, well-defined characters within a literate and lilting text, A Moon To Dance By, is a good bet for life above and beyond New Jersey.