- Moon phases in: Robert Cuccioli (left) and Jane Alexander.
How do you rebel against a mother who ditched her husband and kids for life with a literary legend? How does a grown son even approach such a mother -- with the resentment of childhood abandonment, hatred in solidarity with his beloved father, revulsion at her promiscuity and jealousy of the famous names she can so casually drop into the conversation?
There's a lot of emotion conflicting and boiling away in Thom Thomas' new play, A Moon to Dance By, inspired by real people in real relationships. Just how those relationships play out -- on the eve of World War II, no less -- is where art and imagination step in, and the sensitive interpretation of director Edwin Sherin. The play (aiming for an eventual New York audience, no doubt) has its rough patches, but it's never boring and often fascinating, due as much to a stellar cast as to the words (in three languages!) of former Pittsburgher Thomas.
Jane Alexander lights up the stage as Frieda, the now-middle-aged widow of D.H. Lawrence and keeper of his legacy, literary and otherwise. She's not merely the flame at Lawrence's tomb, however, but is herself bright and alive with passion -- for art, for life, for sex, for people. She physically yearns for the love of her adult son, Monty, in his brief and mysterious visit, and plays sensually adult games with her longtime (but younger) lover, Angelo.
As Monty, Gareth Saxe starts with the stereotypical English stick-in-the-mud and travels more than 360 degrees in attempting to define, refine and resolve his relationship with his mother, and himself. Monty doesn't have his mother's poetic outlook to cushion his pain, and Saxe takes that pain beyond palpable to excruciating, yet always credible.
Completing this remarkable cast is Robert Cuccioli as Angelo, the most down-to-earth and sensible character of the trio. While he does provide comic contrasts, he's not really a buffoonish, cliché Italian. Angelo has his pain, too, and his passions that can match, and occasionally master Frieda's.
Amid the many pains and passions, A Moon to Dance By is more about the possibility of reconciliation after the greatest of hurts and insults. It's not as glib as saying that love conquers all or forgives all or excuses all, but suggests, rather, that love may just possibly suffice.
A Moon to Dance By continues through Feb. 22. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com