Review: SHADOWS (from London, Eng.)

by Lynn on July 3, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At RADA, London, England

Written by Margot MacDonald

Directed by Peta Lily

Cast: Margot MacDonald

Kelly Burke

What a lovely way to spend Canada Day, in London, seeing Shadows, Margot MacDonald’s intriguing play about Eva Le Gallienne and her lover Josephine Hutchinson.

I first saw Shadows a few years ago in Toronto at a quirky theatre called Videofag (now gone, sadly). Margot MacDonald has written a play about British-American actress, Eva Le Gallienne, who was the grand dame of the American theatre from the 1920s to the 1980s. I saw her on Broadway in 1976 in The Royal Family playing the matriarch in a family of actors. Magic.

Margot MacDonald has focused her play on the years 1926 to 1935. During that time Le Gallienne was at the top of her game. She had started her theatre company and she met a young, attractive, eager actress named Josephine Hutchinson who was auditioning for Le Gallienne’s company. They became lovers. Josephine also got married so Le Gallienne was in a position of sharing Hutchinson until Le Gallienne suggested that Josephine move in with her at her house in Connecticut.

MacDonald doesn’t dwell on dates in her play. She doesn’t note the date of the terrible fire that exploded in Le Gallienne’s house and left her disfigured (but eventually healed) except for the loss of part of one of her fingers. She doesn’t note the dates of the various successes and disappointments. While one naturally wants to know, I don’t think it harms the play.

MacDonald focuses on the relationship between the two women; navigating society at that time and how it viewed lesbians; the spunk and grit of Le Gallienne in triumphing in the theatre and the love that she shared with Josephine Hutchinson, who had a career in films and theatre, but not as great as Le Gallienne’s.

Director Peta Lily has directed a simple production. Two white chairs are positioned with one facing up stage and the other close to it facing downstage. Props: a liquor bottle, a glass, books, etc. are neatly arranged on the floor, along the stage’s edge. The production started with a whooshing sound and crackles. If one wasn’t aware of the story, this might be confusing. I knew that was the fire. Later in the production the same sound repeated and by then we were aware.

The staging seems artificial for much of it, a character comes downstage for dramatic effect while the person spoken to is upstage looking at her back. In a way the dynamic of the two characters suggests that Eva is the power and Hutchinson is the one over whom she has power. There is no doubt there is love, but that dynamic is always there.

As Le Gallienne, Margot MacDonald is supremely confident. Her hair is short, slicked back; she wears a man’s shirt, pants and shiny shoes. This Le Gallienne owns the stage, her world and anyone in her orbit. She is kind but there is a sense of the hunt for the next conquest. When Le Gallienne dallies and seeks out other younger companions, Hutchinson is naturally hurt. Le Gallienne’s reply is that she needs the others. Somehow we don’t question that. MacDonald is compelling in the confession.As Josephine Hutchinson, Kelly Burke initially is all feminine, flighty and demur then gains the confidence to be an equal partner with Le Gallienne in their relationship. While Le Gallienne does have the power, she is enthralled by this enchanting woman who has come into her life. And she wants to keep her there. Kelly Burke reveals the layers of feelings of Hutchinson while MacDonald makes Le Gallienne guarded. She was aware of how the press can have a field day with that relationship.

I was glad to see the play again. Eva Le Gallienne was a towering presence in the theatre. The play rekindles my interest in her and the whole world of theatre she created.

Shadows was part of the RADA Festival of plays. What a treat to see this play, written and performed by a Canadian in the hallowed halls of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. The place was buzzing with young talent, all eager to act. Lovely.

 

 

Leave a Comment