The Mill on the Floss | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Mill on the Floss

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THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, Impulse Theatre Company, at Stage Left Theatre. George Eliot's novels abound with feminist compassion for thwarted women like Maggie Tulliver, beleaguered protagonist of Eliot's full-blooded Mill on the Floss. This 1860 work chronicles the destruction of devoted brother and sister Tom and Maggie: one succumbs to stubborn pride, while the other is condemned for her relationships with two forbidden men. Both suffer from the sneers of the small-minded town of Saint Oggs.

Helen Edmundson in her 160-minute dramatization is hard put to keep up with the onslaught of incidents, dividing Maggie among three actors to display the character's many conflicts. The scenes are cursory, but the play overall is sprawling enough to tax the talents of its 11-member cast. Sadly, Amy Heath Bell's staging--the Chicago premiere of this much praised retelling--barely tests the play's strengths. Impulse Theatre's unready production is prey to jumped lines, inconsistent or nonexistent accents, sloppy diction, a portentous sound design, and many lighting miscues. Tech week usually precedes an opening--but not here.

There's no grist in this Mill; there are, however, five relatively strong portrayals: Mary Noe's mature Maggie, Janice Tobin as her chipper mother, Robert McLean as hardened Tom, and Jeff Alguire and Derek T. Bell as Maggie's lovers. At times they almost make the melodrama matter, but then the next blackout arrives: the amount of energy dropped between scenes here could fuel a small city.

--Lawrence Bommer

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