Eternal Equinox, now on stage at 59E59 Theatres, is a delicious look at love, jealousy and commitment in Edwardian England. It is a feast of language, vivid descriptions and emotions, which are lovingly spread out for the audience. The three-player piece is set within a group of actual friends who were talented, accomplished, famous, and deeply in love with both each other and with life.
The trinity of characters is comprised of Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, and a founding member of the “Bloomsbury Group”, Duncan Grant, an eminent painter, avowed homosexual and companion to the married Vanessa Bell, and George Mallory, a mountain climber who mapped one of the most famous routes up Mt. Everest. From the perspective of 2012, this might read like a B list of 1920 celebrities – but the production illuminates a very different perspective. These are radiant personalities, alive with promise and a fantastic futures awaiting them.
It is set on eve of George Mallory’s latest (and, ultimately, final) attempt to conquer Mt. Everest. George arrives unexpectedly at the Sussex country house - the day after Vanessa Bell’s 45th birthday. Duncan and Vanessa’s relationship is complex, to say the least. Vanessa is married to another man and has sons with her (unseen) husband. She also has a daughter by Duncan Grant, her homosexual companion. Duncan and Vanessa love each other, even though Vanessa is married and Duncan is gay. Duncan, although true in his love of Vanessa, never the less sleeps with a steady stream of men. This relationship works, for the most part, although it can be fraught with occasional jealousies and slights. The arrival of the handsome George Mallory is an occasion for both celebration and trepidation for Duncan and Vanessa; each of them have longed for George at one time or another.
Eternal Equinox takes this triangle, and explores it in fascinating and unexpected ways. Of course, the expected jealousies rise up and threaten relationships. But these characters are fierce in their determination to stay true to themselves and in their affection for one another. The zest they have for love and life forces them to examine their own motivations.
The actors do a great job of inhabiting these characters. As Vanessa Bell, Hollis McCarthy brings a level of venerability to the role that illuminates, rather than diminishes Vanessa. Michael Gabriel Goodfriend plays the impetuous Duncan Grant, a painter and free spirit that needs to be nurtured in order to fully develop. And Christian Pedersen is spot on as George Mallory. George is a handsome man, used to sweeping people along with him through the force of his vision. Mr. Pedersen portrays a man extremely self-confident, but aware of his own shortcomings. None of these characters are perfect, but all are engaging.
The sets, by Leonard Ogden, are based on “Charleston”, the actual house that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant kept in Sussex, and the house is full of memories and hints about the occupants. Director Kevin Cochran keeps the action moving, and the story rolling along, so that no previous knowledge of these characters is necessary.
Although we imagine these words, which flowing so smoothly from these people, to be spontaneous - it takes some real talent to write this and make appear so effortless. Playwright Joyce Hokin Sachs provides a wonderful vehicle for these actors. It is a tribute that the next day, I was moved to investigate more about the people these characters are based on. A lovely piece.
(Two more pictures, and details after the jump)
Eternal Equinox at 59 E 59 Theaters
Playwright: Joyce Hokin Sachs
Director: Kevin Cochran
Cast: Michael Gabriel Goodfriend, Hollis McCarthy, Christian Pedersen
Runs Through: March 31st