Sons and Lovers by On the Spot Theatre Company is a credible adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s sad and realistic novel. The U.S. premiere, co-produced with the Greenhouse Theater Center, is adapted and directed by Mike Brayndick. The play is set in the English Midlands in the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s an opportunity to contemplate the life of the frustrated artistic son of a laboring class family, who speaks in the voice of D.H. Lawrence.
Paul Morel (Miles Borchard) is an artistic young man clerking in a factory; he tries to find fulfillment in his drawing and relationships with young women. But none of them have the allure of the adoration that his mother Lydia (Amy Gray) heaps on him. Lydia’s unhappy marriage to her coal-miner husband Walter (Stephen Dunn) leaves her plenty of time to dote on her boys. She’s the smothering mother who finds any woman to be quite unacceptable for her sons. Paul’s older brother William (Brian Boller) goes off to London to work and enjoy the urban entertainments, especially the female variety. While there, he becomes sick and does not get medical care; his death leaves Lydia even more dependent on Paul’s affection. Meanwhile, Walter works 12-hour shifts and spends his evenings in the pub with his “butties.”
Paul’s relationships first with Miriam (Corrie Riedl), who clearly adores him, and then with Clara (Emma Brayndick), a married woman, never work out. Even if they are ready to give over their affection to Paul, he is unable to fully love.
Keeping watch over the family and guiding us through their story is the narrator, D.H. Lawrence himself. He opens the play watching his young mother give birth to himself, the infant Paul. Casting Boller as both the narrator and brother William is slightly confusing. Lawrence the narrator is blessed with lyrical lines from the novel and Paul is clearly the voice of Lawrence the artist. It would seem better to have the actor playing Paul double as the narrator or else to cast a third actor. Also the narrator’s segments of the play are uneven; we don’t see him at all for a long stretch of act one, for instance.
The acting and Midlands accents are quite solid (Saren Nofs-Snyder is dialect coach). Dunn as father Walter nicely reflects the character’s aging and physical impairments. Gray’s Lydia is disappointed in her life, but displays a lovely voice when she sings the English folk song, “Long, Long Ago.” Borchard is a sweetly sensitive and guarded Paul.
The Morels’ home interior and flexible exterior settings are designed by Emma Brayndick and Pat Henderson with lighting by Tyler King. Sound design is by Casey Brayndick and Andy Long with musical arrangements by Dan Kristan. Costumes are by Michele Brayndick. Sons and Lovers runs 2 hours 15 minutes plus a 10-minute intermission. It’s about 15 minutes too long and I would like to see the playwright trim some of act two, which drags on in the middle.
Sons and Lovers was one of D.H. Lawrence’s early novels, published in 1913; its details follow Lawrence’s own early life. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his best-known work, was published in 1928; it was banned in the U.S. until 1959. He died in 1930 at the age of 44. During his lifetime, his reputation was as a pornographer and not as the lyrical and revolutionary novelist that he is now considered. Brayndick’s script for Sons and Lovers includes some intimate scenes, but the play is not a sexual scorcher.
Sons and Lovers continues through September 29 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20-$29 for performances Thursday-Sunday.
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