nytheatre.com review by Sean Michael O'Donnell
July 15, 2007
59E59 is celebrating some of the American contributions to this year's Edinburgh Fringe; among those plays being previewed is Kristina Leach's Grasmere, a heavy drama exploring the imagined secretive personal life of poet William Wordsworth. While an ambitious undertaking, Grasmere suffers from leaden dialogue and awkward direction, ultimately amounting to little more than a silly, third-rate Merchant-Ivory melodrama.
In a secluded cottage in England's Lake District, William Wordsworth and his beloved sister Dorothy find their idyllic lives upset by the arrival of two old friends, Samuel T. Coleridge and Mary Hutchison. While William and Samuel pass their days composing prose, Dorothy and Mary reminisce about their childhoods. As time passes, relationships shift with Samuel trying to woo Dorothy away to Europe and Mary finding love with William. But the affections of the once-welcome visitors turn the quartet's happy reunion dark as the siblings find their strangely intimate relationship threatened.
Unfortunately the plot is just window dressing—an excuse for Leach to wax psychological regarding the creepy pseudo-psychosexual relationship between William and Dorothy. The play unfolds clumsily as a series of odd vignettes punctuated by Dorothy's odd journal entries and populated by trite, drawing room banalities and thinly drawn characters.
Noel Neeb's messy staging does little to advance the story and her unfortunate choice to keep the actors onstage at all times (even when not part of the scene) is a confusing distraction. Her chaotic direction further fails the actors who are left to flounder under the weight of the rambling script.
With little to work with, the cast is left to rely on Masterpiece Theatre-style conventions—longing glances, heaving bosoms, and come-and-go accents. Rachel McKinney fares best among the quartet, imbuing Dorothy with an aching desperation not found in Leach's script. She deserves better material.
Clocking in at one hour, Grasmere manages to be both too long and too short—overstaying its welcome but offering no clear resolution. And while it aims for highbrow complexities, Grasmere can only muster middlebrow muddle.