The Baroness Aurore Dudevant, better known as the French novelist and patron of the arts George Sand, is at her country home, Nohant, with her family and one of her most famous lovers, the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin.
The world owes much to Nohant, for it was there, during nine summers, that Chopin composed some of his greatest works. Summer at Nohant is a logical choice for the new Ambassador Theater, given their mission of promoting international cultural awareness, even if it is not quite worthy of the loving production that the creative team and cast have given it.
George Sand (played by director Hanna Bondarewska) is a heroine tormented by relationship, family, and financial difficulties. She not only has to worry about her own relationship with Chopin (Tyler Herman), which has cooled but still left him a part of the family, but also the romantic and financial futures of her son Maurice (Russell Jonas), her daughter Solange (Jessie Dulaney), and her cousin/ward Augustine (Lauren Elisabeth Uberman).
The fact that Summer at Nohant was written by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz in 1936 (and translated by Celina Wieniewska in 1942) is hardly surprising. Labeled a romantic period comedy, it comes across more as if George Sand has been dropped into an episode of “The Perils of Pauline” complete with dialogue that is either written or performed with an abundance of exclamation marks: “Solange will be mine!”, “Impudent child!”, and “Dreadful things go on here!” Men tend to be either handsome yet insolvent rogues, such as Maurice, or the sculptor Clesinger (Christopher Herring), or devoted yet ineffectual romantic dolts like Ferdinand (Michael Santos Sandoval) and Theodore Rousseau (Daniel Rovin). Yet despite all the weaknesses in the script, the performances do grow on the audience.
Moreover, the talented cast makes the conflicts between the characters more interesting than the dialogue might warrant. While a couple of cast members fall victim to the playwright’s melodrama, most find a nice balance between passion and romantic angst. Even the minor characters are fully invested in their small roles, with standout comic performances by Timothy R. King as the shrewd Count Anthony Wodzinski, Ekaterina Korotkikh as the saucy maid Madeleine, and David Van Ormer as Chopin’s irascible servant John.
The main relationship between Sand and Chopin could have been written better. Chopin is kept offstage far too long at the start of the work, and the conflicts between the two over their different ethnic heritages and the relative artistic worth of a writer versus a composer feel underdeveloped. The fact that multiple women are attracted to Chopin is not justified by his personality as demonstrated on stage.
The period mood is magnificent and the costumes ( Dan Iwaniec and Florence Arnold) are lovely . If you are accustomed to seeing paired down black box productions at the Flashpoint venue, the well-crafted nineteenth century salon will be a pleasant surprise.
The fact that this production feels as polished as it does is a little short of amazing given the snow-related rehearsal difficulties and some late casting changes. Given the skill and enthusiasm that the fledgling Ambassador Theater team has shown with the little-known Summer at Nohant, I look forward to their future productions.
Running Time: 2:10 (one intermission)