Review: ‘Midons, or the Object of Desire’

A sometimes funny, more often tedious riff on romantic love, Lillian Groag's new play is a sticky valentine that occasionally veers into hate mail. Starting from the premise that it all began in the 11th century when courtly love replaced medieval barbarism, "Midons" (the title means "my lady") is too muddled and overlong to be ready for the polished production People's Light & Theater Co. has provided under Groag's own accomplished direction.

A sometimes funny, more often tedious riff on romantic love, Lillian Groag’s new play is a sticky valentine that occasionally veers into hate mail. Starting from the premise that it all began in the 11th century when courtly love replaced medieval barbarism, “Midons” (the title means “my lady”) is too muddled and overlong to be ready for the polished production People’s Light & Theater Co. has provided under Groag’s own accomplished direction.

Structurally the play is a shambles. The first act starts off wittily and should conclude with the Countess’ moving soliloquy on the summer she never had. She was born a bit too late for this new idea of falling in love, and declares, a bit wistfully, “I take my sun and moon and stars neat.”

But, like everything else in this play, the act goes on far too long, diffusing its most interesting moments and deflecting our attention from Marcia Saunders’ splendid performance as the Countess. She has the best lines in the show , suggesting that being over the hill has its perks, although Susan McKey is voluptuous and radiant as the awakened Lady who becomes intoxicated with her own power (“Damn your soul for me”), and Kathryn Petersen is touching as the Duchess, who is lost in a fog of longing.

Groag seems to keep changing her mind: Is this an attack on traditional gender roles or an endorsement of them? Do women really prefer war heroes to the pretty fops they themselves create? If so, does this mean that war and violence are crucial to sexual attraction?

The second act, pretty much a dead loss, features the Moon in a spaceman suit complaining that all the “caterwauling” on earth is wrecking the universe, and a military battle whose conclusion I couldn’t figure out (who won?).

There are also lots of random stabs at Arabs, as well as at western mistrust of Arabs, and at terrorism (remember, after all, the Crusades took the French to Jerusalem), and an obvious jibe at current politics (“One must always give the people a reason for war,” says the King).

Stylistically, there are characters who seem to have flown in from some cartoon (Saunders’ Pig Boy is grotesquely over the top), while other images are tantalizing but undeveloped. Groag offers the invention of the mirror as the emblem of female self-absorption, and other overly symbolic moments provide thematically clunky but tasty theatrical opportunities. The taming of the female falcon occasions Susan McKey’s very vivid impression of a fierce captive bird.

The sound effects are good, but Groag overworks the Sinatra songs — the first time is funny, the second time hilarious, but the many songs after that stretch the joke beyond bearing. And the Troubadour, who is to blame for all this eroticized chivalry and juiced-up love language, is utterly charmless. He’s got none of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ allure.

Midons, or the Object of Desire

People's Light & Theater Co., Philadelphia

Production

A People's Light & Theater Co. presentation of a play in two acts written and directed by Lillian Groag

Creative

Set, John Conklin; costumes, Tracy Dorman; lighting, Russell Champa; sound, Charles T. Brastow. Opened Sept. 19, 2003. Reviewed Sept. 21. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN

Cast

The Lady, Moon, Falcon - Susan McKey The Knight, Falconer - David Ingram The Lord, Archbishop, etc. - Tom Teti Troubadour, etc. - Kevin Bergen The Countess, Pigboy - Marcia Saunders Duchess, Fanette - Kathryn Petersen Abbott, etc. - Stephen Novelli Visored Knight, etc. - Scott Boulware
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