A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot’s novel is a classic, and Shared Experience captures not only its narrative but its emotional tenor.  In directing Helen Edmundson’s dramatic adaptation,  Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale imaginatively enlist three actresses to portray the complex psychology of heroine Maggie Tulliver at three stages of her life.  There is the impetuous child (Pauline Turner), still with the grown-up Maggie, representing  feelings she must hide.  Maggie as a young woman (Jessica Lloyd)  must control her love for Philip, son of the family’s enemy, because  her domineering brother forbids contact with him.  The third Maggie (Caroline Faber), a mature woman, despite the encouragement of willful child Maggie, struggles to suppress her love for Stephen Guest, beloved by her cousin. As the three Maggies interact, as the child lures her older self to express her emotions, the one about to speak claps her hand over the mouth of the former speaker, the physical act of repression also a signal to the audience.

In the opening scene, child Maggie reads about a witch on trial by ducking, while behind her the scene in her head is reenacted, and with imaginative lighting, the watery flood the witch encounters presages Maggie’s destiny, to be punished by a rigid and prejudiced society. With intelligence and imagination, using only eight actors and basic scenery, the directors evoke the repressive society that enveloped Eliot as well as the character she created. (Unlike Maggie, she defied convention and eloped with the man she loved.)   The metaphor of the drowning witch reflects Maggie’s dilemma: if she floats, she is condemned; she must drown to be proven innocent.