Volume 78 - Number 33 / January 14 - 20, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

LEFT: “Freshwater” will open on January 25, which would have marked playwright Virginia Woolf’s 125th birthday. RIGHT: Director Anne Bogart (photo by: Carol Rosegg) on the set of “Freshwater,” a play by Virginia Woolf which is premiering at the Woman’s project

Comedic waves
Virginia Woolf’s ‘Freshwater’ finally comes ashore

By JERRY TALLMER

Said Ellen Terry, age 17, to Alfred Tennyson, age 55: “Oh Lord! Lord! Lord!”

Said Alfred Tennyson, through his whiskers, to Ellen Terry, the prettiest girl in all England: “I am not yet a Lord, damsel, but who knows? That may lie on the lap of the Queen. Meanwhile, sit on my lap.”

The Queen, needless to say, was Victoria.

“You’re a very beautiful wench, Ellen,” declared Alfred Lord Tennyson-to-be.

“And you’re a very great poet, Mr. Tennyson,” said the Ellen Terry – great actress to be –

who had just held a pose for four hours for Mr. G.F. Watts, the eminent painter – and, as it happens, her then husband, age 47 – while he labored away on his canvas of “Modesty at the Foot of Mammon,” in between spouting his law of life: “The Utmost for the Highest.”

Meanwhile, at this same garden party at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, the great, stiff-necked photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is making her husband, the eminent philosopher Charles Hay Cameron, pose for her camera while he and she are awaiting the arrival of the two coffins – their coffins – that are to accompany the Camerons by ship to India, a colonial paradise from which they do not expect to return.

Then, before you can say “Boo,” a gallant, handsome, uncultured young lieutenant in the Royal Navy – the fictional John Craig – is making love to naïve but not unwilling Nell (that same soon-to-be-divorced Ellen) out on The Needles, a group of nearby chalk mounds that rise out of the sea.

Well, no, none of these people (all of them real except the lieutenant) said any of these things nor did any of this really happen, except in the head of Virginia Woolf, that very great and very serious writer of the next generation down – the post-Victorian Bloomsbury generation – when in 1923 she contrived a giddy, nutty, wonderful little one-act entertainment called ”Freshwater” for the private enjoyment of friends and family.

In 1935, six years before her suicide by drowning, she revised it, and though it was finally published in 1976. Under the direction of Anne Bogart, it starts previews January 15 toward an opening January 25 (Virginia Woolf’s 128th birthday) at the Women’s Project, 424 West 55th Street.

It was Julie Crosby, artistic director of the Women’s Project, who discovered “Freshwater” while teaching at Columbia University, and gave it to Ms. Bogart to read not quite a year ago.

“I loved it,” says Anne Bogart, whose track record with her SITI Company is as impressive as anybody’s in the business. “Very witty and very much in the idiosyncratic spirit of Virginia Woolf.” She sees it, for all its loopiness, as “a portrait of women in action.”

Bogart herself is very much a woman in action, though her only previous direction of Woolfiana was an adaptation of the novelist’s “The Waves” and a play about Virginia called “Room” (as in “A Room With a View”), done Off-Broadway and all over the world.

Any particular problems with “Freshwater”?

“Well, how to balance the extremity of the characters so as to still have them believable and that you care about them.”

Are you having fun? Having trouble keeping a straight face?

“We are,” she said – gravely.

FRESHWATER. By Virginia Woolf. Directed by Anne Bogart. With Akiko Aizawa, Gian Murray Gianino, Ellen Lauren, Kelly Maurer, Tom Nelis. Barney O’Hanlon, Stephen Duff Webber. Enters previews January 15 toward January 25 opening at the Women’s Project, 424 West 55th Street, (212) 765-2105..

 

 

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