A review of a Victorian love story, "Muse" by Kris Lundberg
“Muse” a Victorian love story
Written by Kris Lundberg. Directed by Jay Michaels. Starring Greg Pragel as Dante Rossetti and Kris Lundberg as Elizabeth Siddal.
Set in Victorian London and based on a true story, “Muse” embraces the tumultuous romance between the charismatic Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his muse and model, Elizabeth Siddal. During the rise of the Pre-Raphaelite revolution, which radically changed London’s art scene, Rossetti’s paintings became highly commissioned and Lizzie quickly rose to fame, immortalized as a model. We follow him through the trials and tribulations of his artistic struggles as well as the dynamics of his relationship with Lizzie who, as his protégé, becomes his fiercest artistic competitor.
The opening scene of “Muse” introduces us to the tortured soul of Pre-Raphealite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti; a man haunted by demons and grief. Her name was Elizabeth Siddal a young girl who worked in a shop in London. She was to change the life of Rossetti forever. Enter stage center, Greg Pragel, as Rossetti who worked a miracle by actually making the man a likable one for me! Gone were my grievances with Rossetti, any preconceived notions of the painter, his life, his works, how he treated various women in his life diminished for the entire one hour and fifteen minutes; the length of the show. Rossetti was made human complete with humour, grace, even empathy. Every time ‘Lizzie’ walked on stage, superbly acted by playwright and actress, Kris Lundberg, it was as if I were watching these two lovebirds discover each other as they lived as artist and muse or was that artist and artist? Yes, you see, in “Muse” as in life, Elizabeth Siddal is taught drawing and painting by Rossetti himself as she models for him. What Rossetti does not bank on is that she has as much talent or ‘more’ talent than the man himself!
Something so rare happened to me sitting in the audience of The New City Theatre in New York City with my friends, I was not concerned with comparing the changes made between the lives of the real nineteenth century artists and how they were depicted in “Muse.” I couldn’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde’s phrase, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Were Rossetti and Siddal’s lives imitating each other’s up on that stage in front of me or was it what their art has taught me instead? I will leave it to you the viewer to answer that question. The wonderful aspect of “Muse” is that everyone leaves afterwards wanting to know who these two people were. You can discover them individually and form your own conclusions.
I was impressed not only by the beautiful acting of these two fine performers but by the fact that playwright, Kris Lundberg chose to tell her story by using a series of flashback scenes created during this one act play. By doing this, the viewer is forced to meet the humanized version of Dante Gabriel Rossetti as he drunkenly works through his grief over losing his “Muse” upon her death by laudanum. So many fabulous scenes of Rossetti standing in front of an easel and canvas painting his “Muse” while they both discuss the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. For instance, Millais is called a ‘genius’ by Rossetti which is quite true and we are painfully aware of his seething underlying jealousy over the yearning to become recognized and accepted as a painter of worth by the Royal Academy as well as his trusty mates!
I found myself laughing out loud over their fumbling growing passions, eventually getting married, Lizzie’s modeling for fellow artists and Rossetti attempting to cope with more jealousy! Wanting her all to himself as they become fused into one soul of creativity and passion. All the while, you begin to understand that Lizzie’s human frailty and growing laudanum addiction becomes a very real source of angst for this couple juxtaposed against her growing talent as an artist in her own right. Will it tear them apart or bring them together forever?
The Elizabeth Siddal you see on stage is a woman of determination and emotional strength as she grows into herself not only as a woman but as an artist. The fantastic writing of Kris Lundberg’s dialogue scenes between Lizzie and Rossetti as she stands her ground as an artist and stands up to him will make you laugh out loud and want to stand and cheer for her! Lizzie’s dramatic soliloquy upon returning from France by invitation from John Ruskin is worth the ticket price alone! She voices her fears and heartbreaks while kneeling to the audience in a blistering and soulfully gorgeous soliloquy. I was moved to tears many times and I won’t even begin to describe how it ends; sadly, we all know that much!
I am so grateful that I went to see “Muse” and kept an open mind because Kris Lundberg and Greg Pragel brought Rossetti and Siddal to life for me as two young people sharing a common bond of art and eventually true love.
“Muse” will be going on the road across the United States, and I do hope everyone rushes to see it. As soon as the dates are released, I will post them here!
Biography of Kris Lundberg
Kris Lundberg has spent the past thirteen years advocating for educational advancement of students in New York City using a creative curriculum.
As a teacher, she teaches pre K-12 students, in addition to serving as a guest teaching artist at colleges. As a community leader, Kris has stepped into the shelters and continues to teach her theater workshops to women in need, as well as serving as a mentor to Columbia University students with an interest in theater and education. As an actress, she's worked on the stage and screen and, as a writer, her plays have been produced in New York, London and the Carolinas. Additionally, she is the author of children's book "Sniffy McSnifferson Meets the Beloved".
Kris has trained classically with Julian Glover, Bill Homewood and Richard Ryan in London, UK and holds her Bachelor of Science and Professional Licensure in K-12 teaching in Theater Education from East Carolina University in North Carolina. She is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, The Shakespeare's Society, SAG-AFTRA and the Actors’ Equity Association.
For more information about Muse and other plays, Shakespeare's Sister Company