The Yellow Leaf review

yellow-leaf-castLast night I had the welcome opportunity to attend Pioneer Theater Company’s production of “The Yellow Leaf,” a play based upon the landmark meeting of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori in Switzerland during the summer of 1816. The play was written by Charles Morey, the company’s artistic director, and derives its title from Lord Byron’s On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year.  Turning phrases worthy of these giants of the literary salon is no small task, but Morey pulls it off with aplomb.  A well-appointed minimalist set is all that is necessary to present such larger than life characters.  Largest of these is Lord Byron,  who in his largesse is hosting the party at the Villa  Diodati.   Bjorn Thorstad fits into this large role rather well, prompting me to wonder if he is able to extract himself from the role as easily as he throws himself into it.   Thorstad employs the proper degree of physical and vocal affectations for the part, bringing Byron off the page and on to the stage.  His performance as an Englishman with a tremendous ego unimpeded by his limp reminded me of Hugh Laurie.  Shelley is a sensitive and sincere foil to the brazen Byron (though they have both fled from scandals in England), and Christopher Kelly plays him as such.  Ellen Adair is potent in the plum role of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley), and Lena Hurt displays a tempestuous range of emotions that echoes the squalls of that summer in Switzerland.  Giorgio Litt has the thankless task of playing the hapless Dr. Polidori, but the play would not be complete without him.  Under the direction of Geoffrey Sherman these actors give a compelling view of the momentous events of that summer and beyond.

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