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A Dangerous Personality: Blah, Blah, Blavatsky

Sallie Bingham's new play certainly sounds like it should be fascinating. The life of Helena Blavatsky, after all, was filled with drama: a charismatic Russian mystic, she fled her homeland in the 1840s and traveled the world, gaining converts to her unique blend of philosophy and religion-- which she called "theosophy"-- and inspiring generations of writers, academics and philosophers. Any dramatist would have her work cut out for her in adapting this life for the stage.

And yet A Dangerous Personality manages to miss much of the inherent emotion in Blavatsky's story. Overlong and overblown, Bingham's script revels in facts rather than feelings, and never quite marries the two into the intellectual biography the play could be. Instead of a powerful, passionate woman who actively sought to change the way her contemporaries thought (or, perhaps, of a charismatic cult leader), Bingham, and director Martin Platt, reduce their subject to histrionics and bombast.

Even more frustrating, Bingham makes her Blavatsky into a miracle-working quasi-messiah, using "spirits" to send "astral telegraphs" and make roses fall from the sky. Magic realism can certainly have its place in theatre, but its presentation here is so heavy-handed that the letters and flowers fall like anvils. Regardless of one's belief in the supernatural or in Blavatsky's "spirits," clumsy writing makes for a dull play.

As Blavatsky, Jodie Lynn McClintock roars frequently, and delivers Bingham's awkward exposition with as much grace as possible, all while encumbered by a heavy Russian accent. Graeme Malcolm Gets the most emotional depth of the evening as Henry Olcott, a Victorian man who chooses to obey a woman, but can only bend so far to her will. Lisa Bostnar's elegant English countess is little more than a sounding board for exposition, despite some poignant moments of both doubt and faith. The play comes most to life whenever Nancy Anderson takes the stage as Blavatsky's headstrong Irish maid, or when Sheffield Chastain steals scenes by force as Thomas Edison. In his single scene as a condescending Reverend, Steve Brady plays the villain with as much gusto as the script can get.

Platt's direction, like the script, is far too overblown, never finding the balance between a larger-than-life figure from history and a three-dimensional human being. Bill Clarke's set design is simple and effective, evoking both Victorian New York and India. Martha Hally's costumes likewise help evoke the time, place, and social status of her characters.

There may be a good dramatic play in Helena Blavatsky's life, but A Dangerous Personality needs to be trimmed and tightened before it can do her life and her mysteries justice. 


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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)