Drama of Lawrence's life isn't dramatic enough

October 28, 1997|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The set for Olney Theatre Center's production of its original drama about D.H. Lawrence and his wife, "Look! We Have Come Through!", features Gothic windows, untidy piles of books and ornate, overflowing bookshelves.

Designed by University of Maryland MFA candidate Raye Leith under the mentorship of Olney's Dan Conway, the set suggests a cathedral to the written word. This would appear to be an appropriate metaphor for a work about one of the 20th century's most eminent -- and notorious -- British authors. But it also reflects the attitude of reverence, instead of conflict, that drains this otherwise pleasant production of much of its potential drama.

"Look! We Have Come Through!" -- the title is that of a 1917 collection of Lawrence's poetry -- was compiled from the letters and writings of Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, by Jim Petosa, who also directed the production, and Carole Graham Lehan.

There was certainly more than enough drama in Lawrence's relatively short life. He battled ill health from childhood on; he and Frieda, a German-born married woman with three children, ran off together only a month after they met; his writing, especially "Lady Chatterley's Lover," was frequently condemned as pornography; and he was accused of having fascist and communist sympathies.

Yet Olney's production is ultimately more literary than dramatic -- a shortcoming due partly to the script, but mostly to the respectful performances of Steven Dawn and Naomi Jacobson and to Petosa's tame direction.

Frieda and Lawrence not only had a passionate romance; they were also passionate combatants. In the script, Frieda refers to "that almost too great intensity of our life together," and Lawrence admits, "I find it so difficult to live proportionately."

But what Dawn and Jacobson primarily convey is congeniality. The bond they share feels more like friendship than unrestrained physical passion. And when they fight, they seem to be playacting -- not surprising, since in most of these fights they are performing semi-autobiographical scenes from Lawrence's writing, such as the overly long passage from "Women in Love" at the end of the first act.

Similarly, though Lawrence's health problems are referred to repeatedly, Dawn's portrayal is exuberant, in action as well as attitude.

The couple's money problems are also mentioned several times, but their penury never seems real -- though it could have been suggested by something as simple as changing into more threadbare costumes.

The script has some problems as well. In a fantasy sequence at the start of the second act, Frieda reads Lawrence his obituary from the London Times. It's an exposition-laden moment that is unnecessary at that point in the proceedings and could probably be dispensed with altogether.

Finally, co-authors Petosa and Lehan even deplete their own potentially spirited ending. After Frieda has described Lawrence's death and funeral, Dawn's Lawrence unexpectedly appears at the back of the theater and literally cartwheels down the aisle as he quotes from one of his essays: "We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh." It's a marvelous concluding moment, filled with the joi de vivre that infused Lawrence's writing, but it is muted by giving Frieda the last word.

In the end, "Look! We Have Come Through!" is an agreeable enough evening of theater, but it doesn't live up to its exclamation points.

'Look! We Have Come Through!'

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Route 108, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7: 30 p.m. Sundays, matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays and Oct. 30, Nov. 8, 15 and 22; through Nov. 23

Tickets: $10-$32

Call: 301-924-3400

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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