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.