A review of Muse - A Victorian love story by Kristin Lundberg

 Muse is now streaming online as part of the Ludlow Fringe Festival in the United Kingdom until July 18th.  The link to the fringe website will appear at the end of this review. To watch this beautiful play starring the playwright herself, Kristin Lundberg as Elizabeth Siddal with the brilliant Greg Pragel as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Based on a true story and set in 19th century England, this Victorian romance opens with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a painter of sensuality -- famed for founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which revolutionized fine art -- remembering Elizabeth Siddal, his model, his MUSE...his greatest passion. What follows is a kaleidoscope of memories - both passionate and painful.

Siddal was chosen as the model for John Millais famous painting of Shakespeare's “Ophelia” and, at the insistence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, she became the embodiment of grace and beauty being immortalized in paintings and living a life that not even she could have dreamt of.

Through Rossetti’s story, we follow his journey working with the brotherhood of artists as they produce canvases reminiscent of medieval paintings. MUSE embodies the explosive struggles of his relationship with Lizzie, his muse, his model and later, his artistic competitor.

I am Dante Gabriel Rossetti, I am Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

Are you aware of how terrifying it is to lose complete joy and focus over what one knows so well?

You have scorched every partition in my brain with your beauty. Your image is always there.  Why can't I paint it?
My muse. My idyllic angel. 
I never wished for you to be left alone. 
You were my everything. You were my Aphrodite. 

Please forgive me.  I beg of you. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti tells his love story in narrative flashbacks emoting moments of rage, agony, tragedy, guilt, and remorse on stage. Greg Pragel as Rossetti shares  funny and charming moments with muse, Elizabeth Siddal played by Kristin Lundberg. Rossetti paints her in various literature and poetic scenes on canvas. They spend a lot of time together and eventually having so much in common painter/teacher to muse/student inevitably become girlfriend and boyfriend. It sounds childish I know but you must remember that Rossetti and Siddal were real human beings and their story is one of love, lust, art, and tragedy. 

As with artistic couples, Greg Pragel and Kristin Lundberg flesh out the human flaws, weaknesses, and characteristics of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal. At the time of their meeting, Rossetti was the established painter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Although, he struggled with acceptance from his brethren and counterparts as well as his own insecurities. What he found in his love, his muse, his Beatrice, was a more than equal partner and artist in her own right. Go Lizzie! You see, as their relationship flourished, so did Elizabeth Siddal's talent for drawing and painting. I don't want to give anything away but let's just say that Rossetti's fragile ego took a bit of a hit, poor guy. 

They don't understand. The other models. 
They don't understand. About art. 
 I see shapes and colors in poetry. They see nothing. 
They shame me for it. Painting Tennyson's words in fantastical imagery. 

Mrs. Tozer found a sketch which I thought I had hidden. She tore it up in front of me. Every rip was a tear to my heart. 

It's exhausting. Fighting for what you love. 
Fighting for what you know. 
When no one believes who you are and can't stand what you're bound to become. 

When Greg Pragel and Kristin Lundberg are on stage together they portray the characters of  Rossetti and Siddal with such humor between them its wonderful. Their conversations are so enchanting. You have captured the real people as you envision them as couple, artist and muse. 

I am reminded once more of how fragile life can be. Dante Gabriel Rossetti lived and breathed his passions and in the end he lost himself to the tragedy of what was to befall Elizabeth Siddal.  As for Elizabeth, she always knew she was talented, she always knew she wanted to be more than noticed for her beauty. What I don't believe she may have realized was that her life was to be terribly brief. 

A very bold and impressive move made by Director, Jay Michaels was juxtaposing Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Greg Pragel) on stage going about his life while Lizzie Siddal is away in France with Ruskin. Kristin Lundberg as Lizzie Siddal enters the theatre from the rear talking and interacting with the audience.

Kristin Lundberg has written a beautiful love story. Muse is filled with such humor and even though there is sadness it is tinged with poetry and painting. Who knows maybe that's exactly what Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal were hoping for! 

NOTE:  The photograph is really Dante Gabriel Rossetti as is the image of Elizabeth Siddal.  The text next to both, in red font,  are from Muse written by Kristin Lundberg. 

YOU HAVE FIVE DAYS LEFT. Please do not miss this opportunity to watch, Muse, streamed online for a very affordable ticket price,  Ludlow Fringe Box Office


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