The colorful life and times of French novelist and playwright George Sand (1804-1876) are recounted in a new one-woman play, "The Lioness of Berry," in the Studio Theatre at Towson State University through Sunday.
Part of the college's Maryland Arts Festival series, this engrossing work was written by Patricia R. Plante, former provost of Towson State University. Maravene Loeschke, who chairs the theater arts department at Towson State, is featured in the title role.
The show, well staged by C. Richard Gillespie, runs one hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Aurore Dupin, who assumed the masculine nom de plume George Sand, favored the freewheeling life style of men. She shocked French society with her man's attire, cigar smoking and countless love affairs. A prolific and controversial writer with true concern for the unfortunate, she passionately protested social conventions that chained women, unwillingly, to their husbands.
Plante's script is set in Sand's favorite country house in the province of Berry.
We meet the author as she enters the house clad in a man's black suit and high black hat. She is smoking a cigarette while her anguished beloved, Frederic Chopin, composes a new musical piece offstage.
Sand is 38 at the start of the play. As she struts back and forth playing with dried flowers, insects and amphibian life, she fills in the unhappy details of her childhood and early adulthood.
She is on very friendly terms with the greats of the time -- Balzac, Flaubert, Turgenev, Liszt, Dumas. She tells of her great love for Alfred de Musset and speaks fondly of the numerous other men in her life. She espouses a strong philosophy of individual rights.
We discover Sand has two children by a failed marriage and that her parents were not the nurturing sort. At the end of the first act Sand turns to go in to Chopin, saying she will see us presently.
But the second act jumps too abruptly into the future -- 28 years later. Sand is now a grandmother, and we hear funny and sad family stories, some scandalous bits and a contented reflection on her past.
The acts do not flow well into each other. There is too big a time gap.
The script is beautifully written and is chock full of fascinating details on Sand's life. But the work is more an excellent thesis than a legitimate stage play.
A stage play demands several important spheres of reference -- re-enactments of major turning points in a life -- a crisis or two (or three) revisited. Plante's play is an eloquently written, rather unexciting biography.
As Sand, Loeschke certainly looks the part and is completely believable. But the actress tends to stay on a one-level tone without inserting vital transitions. There is also somewhat of a lack of passion and feeling of derring-do.
Loeschke is more convincing in the second act as the placid grandmother. In the first act, the actress seems a little ill at ease wearing a man's suit and feigning male mannerisms. Although Loeschke often picks up a cigar, she never smokes it as Sand definitely would have done.
Meanwhile, a powerful production of Peter Shaffer's great play, "Amadeus," superbly staged and choreographed by Todd Pearthree, is playing in the Upstairs Cabaret of Cockpit in Court through Sunday.
In this contemporary classic, Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph II of Austria (1791), driven mad by the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sets out to destroy his younger rival.
As Salieri, Mark Campion turns in the finest performance of his career. Co-star Brian A. Ruff is excellent as the guileless Mozart. Martin McDonough is a standout as the foppish, shallow emperor. Molly J. Moores is sweetly sensitive as Mozart's wife.
Good performances are given by the whole cast. Our only criticism is that Mozart's wonderful music was not intensified enough to strongly enhance significant dramatic scenes.