Dream Up Festival's production Muse, by Crystal Field and Shakespeare's Sister Company, is everything you could hope for in a gothic Victorian romance play. The costumes are beautifully authentic, the props apropos, and the love story -- oh, the love story. It is fiery and passionate, full of wild declarations of love, accusations of unfaithfulness and heartbreakingly tragic monologues.
Set in London, the play focuses on real-life artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Greg Pragel) and his "muse" Elizabeth Siddal (Kris Lundberg). Dante is a tortured soul, wrapped up in not only his own art but the idea of art; the idea of capturing nature and poetry in a canvas. When we meet Elizabeth, she is an insecure shopgirl who gets teased by local boys about her red hair. That red hair and alabaster skin is what draws Rossetti to her; she inspires him and eventually he falls in love with her. It's never clear whether it is Elizabeth he is in love with or the woman he paints her as.
Slowly, Elizabeth is discovered as a talented artist in her own right, as well as becoming the most in-demand model for the creative elites in London and France. Rossetti struggles to be supportive of the woman he loves, to control his jealousy of her success and to find inspiration in other women. Their love eventually descends into madness.
Pragel plays the eccentric romantic artist to a T. His talented blend of arrogance and insecurity is poignant. Lundberg's Siddal is utterly charming. Her naivety and self-conscious smiles at Rossetti's compliments are so charismatic. As she spirals out of control bringing Rossetti with her, it is a tragic portrayal that you wish you could stop watching but you can't.
The play takes place over a few locations, Rossetti's studio, the street and English countryside, but the scenery is only set up as the studio. The actors do a pretty good job of explaining where they are, but it takes a minute to catch up. Lundberg's writing feels like you really are watching a Victorian couple speak, and the words are not only authentic but also poetic. Jay Michael's direction really fills the space, allowing the scenes to unfold beautifully.
While a gorgeous play, a word of advice would be to not sit close to the action as the space is small and most of the scenes' dialogues are very loud. Declarations of love and hate will do that.
Muse is presented as part of the Dream Up Festival, which continues through September 7 at Theater for the New City. For more information, click here.
Through September 7 at Theater for the New City.