Staging The Mysterious Mother — Misty Gale Anderson
As part of Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library “Walpolooza,” a year-long celebration of Horace Walpole’s work and influence in 2018, I had the pleasure to direct The Mysterious Mother, his gothic, campy, double-incest tragedy deemed “too dreadful” for the stage. Those unfamiliar with the plot can read a summary here. The elaborate staged reading was a year in preparation but with less than three days to work together in person. We evoked the hypertheatricality the play helped to usher onto the late-eighteenth-century gothic stage with the help of a digital set designed by Alice Trent. Fog rolled, thunder rumbled, and crows cawed across a shadowy gothic castle and a monastery garden, all projected on to the signature Louis Kahn poured concrete walls in the Yale Center for British Art’s lecture hall.
Against these digital animations and 26 sound cues, we used simple blocking to help the actors to navigate the space while on book. Side stairs allowed the actors to enter solemnly to the final strains of “Ubi Caritas,” and we used the arc created by a fixed overhead spot to establish the playing area as well as darkened corners to hide eavesdropping characters. The rich costumes, rented from various theatre companies in the area, were nearly fully realized versions of Lady Diana Beauclerk’s drawings, bringing grandeur and gorgeousness to the production. The fundamental horror of the Countess’s sexual transgressions; her psychological tormenters Friars Benedict and Martin, determined to extract her confession and allegiance to the Roman Catholic church; and Georgina Lock’s portrayal of Countess’s majestic strength engaged audiences in the deeply disturbing, powerful portrayal of emotional chaos, sexual guilt, and secular defiance. At the same time, as in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), tragedy and camp walk hand in hand in this play, and we ran the risk of laughter while trying to portray the gothic horror at its center. The young men strutted, Adeliza melted, and the priests walked labyrinthine monastery paths while gleefully rubbing their hands together in a pantomime of villainy. It is was both fitting and an additional gift from the universe that of the rented costumes, Florian’s (Gilberto Saenz’s), had originally been made for a young Nathan Lane.
This Collection gathers accounts of actors and scholars who participated in the event, as well as video of the staged reading and the mini-conference.
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