Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jane Alexander discusses Frieda Lawrence and other roles

The following is a preview of Jane Alexander's interview in the Princeton Packet.

Ms. Alexander discusses the genesis of A Moon To Dance By which is officially opens this Friday!

A Little Moonlight
by Anthony Stoeckert

For Jane Alexander, 2009 has been a year spent on stage. The Tony- and Emmy-winning actress has performed in plays in Pittsburgh, New York and Connecticut, collaborating with writers like David Hare and actors like Stockard Channing.

It’s a contrast to 2008, when she worked exclusively in television and film (including a role in the latest Terminator flick). Still, she’s comfortable acting in different plays on different stages.

”I’ve been a regional theater actress from the very beginning,” she says before a day’s rehearsal at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. “In fact, when I first went to New York, I would say, ‘I want to do the classics, and the only place I can do the classics is in what’s called regional theater.’”

These days she’s acting in new plays like Thom Thomas’ A Moon to Dance By, which delves into four days Frieda Lawrence spent with the son she left in order to marry the writer D.H. Lawrence. Ms. Alexander played the part in Pittsburgh earlier this year with the same creative team that has brought it to George Street through Dec. 13.

The real-life Frieda was a German-born woman who married Ernest Weekly, a professor embedded in proper British society. In 1912, she ran off with one of her husband’s students, D.H. Lawrence. As Mr. Thomas writes in notes about the play, Victorian conventions were smothering, especially to women. But Frieda flaunted her affair and encouraged fellow unsatisfied housewives to follow her lead.

”Frieda was described, even at the time she was a little girl, as bold, impudent,” Ms. Alexander says before sharing a story about Frieda and Ernest’s honeymoon night. Prior to that night, physical contact between the two had been limited to a peck on the cheek. ”On the wedding night he went out of the room while she got herself ready,” Ms. Alexander says. “She climbed on top of the wardrobe in her camisole and panties — on top of the wardrobe like a little elf waiting for him to come in!”

To understand Frieda, Ms. Alexander considered how she grew up in Germany in the 19th century, where a sort of free love movement was going on. ”Frieda kind of grew up in that atmosphere, even though she was not part of the group, it was in the air in Germany,” she says. “So when she went to a very conservative English town of Nottingham with this husband who was probably a lovely guy but very straight-laced, I think she chaffed all the time. And when she met this man... David Herbert Lawrence, she just fell for him.” Frieda paid a price for her choice, losing her relationship with her son, Monty, who was 12 years old when she left England to live with Lawrence in America. She maintained relationships with her two daughters, but Monty, according to the playwright’s notes, grew to despise her. In July of 1939, nine years after D.H.’s death, Monty visited his mother at the New Mexico ranch she lived on with her younger lover, Angelo Ravagli. ”Thom Thomas just came across this fact, which was that Monty Weekly had visited his mother after a long estrangement for four days,” Ms. Alexander says of the play’s creation. “He came all the way from England for four days, to New Mexico.” Little is known about the visit other than the fact that it happened. No record was made as to what happened during the brief reunion. But Mr. Thomas read through letters between Monty and his mother written after the visit. “In trying to sense the unspoken feelings between the lines, I feel I have resolved some of these unanswered questions,” he writes. Co-starring in the play with Ms. Alexander are Robert Cuccioli (whose Broadway credits include the title roles in Jekyll & Hyde) as Angelo and Gareth Saxe as Monty. Directing is Edwin Sherin, who also helmed the play in Pittsburgh.

”We were really astonished at the response of the audience,” she says. “We thought we had a good play, but in Pittsburgh... we were sold out by the last two weeks, totally sold out. Word of mouth was incredible, the reviews were great, and the audiences responded so emotionally. And there are a lot of laughs, so it’s a great time in the theater I think.”

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