- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

The title of playwright Donna Gerdin's dark comedy, "Losing Lawrence," presented by Horizons Theatre Company at Arlington's Theatre-in-the-Run, has a double and even a triple meaning. On the surface, it is a comedy about the vagaries surrounding the final resting place of the ashes of D.H. Lawrence. Almost a Keystone Kops routine.

In the play, his larger-than-life German-born wife Frieda, who had left her Nottingham University professor husband to roam the world with the controversial English author, brings the ashes from Europe to Taos, N.M., where she resides with two equally possessive friends, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Dorothy Brett. A tussle ensues over the best way to honor the celebrated man, whose soul all three women feel they in some way own.

(For what it's worth Ms. Gerdin makes no claims for being true to life in her "faction" drama Lawrence's ashes are said to have been brought to America by Frieda's italian lover, whom she later married.)

What gets "lost" in the ensuing action an emotional tug of war over differing views of the man and how best to honor him is Lawrence's reputation in the outside world, represented by an aggressive young newspaper reporter. Very nearly destroyed, too, is any pretense of a bond among the three women, each more eccentric and neurotic than the next, although in quite entertaining ways.

The dark side of Lawrence's life emerges into the light as the facts about the Lawrence's marriage come out in a series of contretemps provoked by the women's jealousy.

Seldom have the ups and downs of friendship among three such different women characters been explored in quite this way. Theatergoers seeking escape from the contemporary world might relish the chance to be transported to a bare bones New Mexican ranch in the 1930s. It's hardly a feminist tract that Horizons has put on the theater is run by women about women for the most part but an observer feels a need to cheer at Frieda's petulant cry that "a gal's got to live." She envisions a "sacred spot" and festival, for which participants will be charged admission.

Mabel Dodge Luhan in real life was no shrinking violet and her portrayal by Katrina Van Duyn is not entirely convincing, appearing just this side of dotty. The character rescues herself however, saying very common-sensically at one point that "maybe it's time to let go of all this," thereby interrupting some very fiery antics. At least some of Luhan's histrionics are leavened by humor. "I wouldn't shoot myself, I'm a pacifist," she says when the trio, improbably enough, is discussing a suicide pact to hide what they know about Lawrence's dark side. Rosemary Regan is a lightweight Dorothy Brett, cowering under her trademark head scarf.

The script is tight and polished; the performance by Brilane Bowman as the 50-year-old Frieda Lawrence is especially effective as she moves breezily about the set, flaunting her charms on the reporter, played by Arthur Rosenberg, who is eager to make his name by exposing the tempestuous goings-on at the ranch.

Ah, well. Love's labors never were lost among this batty crew of crazed females. But their craziness is what saves them and keeps a friendship from being forever lost when they come together at the end, intending to write a book that will be the definitive, if deceptive, version of life with Lawrence. The device provides a deft conclusion for Ms. Gerdin, a local award winner whose previous plays have been produced at the Source and American Showcase theaters. She has said she wasn't interested in writing a factual version of the story and deliberately did not read published individual accounts that the three produced.


***

WHAT: "Losing Lawrence," by Donna Gerdin, at Horizons Theatre.

WHEN: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees today, tomorrow and Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m.

WHERE: Theatre-On-The-Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington

TICKETS: $18 - $22. $12 per person for groups of 12 or more people.

PHONE: 703/243-8550.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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