A moving story portraying a family’s plight with pride, forgiveness and humility will be depicted in “The Mill on the Floss,” opening Nov. 3. The play is produced by the Department of Theatre and Media Arts and will run for three weeks.
Originally a novel by George Eliot, the story is set in late 19th century England and follows Maggie Tulliver, a young girl who is exceptionally independent for her age and era, as she navigates a world that seems to be working against her.
Richelle Sutton, the dramaturg for the production, said, “One of my favorite things about this play is the story behind the production. The play has been adapted by Helen Edmundson from a novel written in the 1800s. The book is a sort of fictionalized autobiography of the author's life, a woman by the name of Mary Anne Evans, who was published under the pen name George Eliot. Through this book, and by extension the play, you can see some of the struggles she faced living as a female author in a time when women weren't expected to know or do much outside of the home.”
Sutton believes the play is special because it symbolizes the emotions, insecurities, struggles and hardships of a woman who turned out to be one of England’s most influential writers.
“The Mill on the Floss” is Sutton’s first show as a dramaturg. She asked for the position because she had the opportunity to do research in the very country where the production is set. Sutton describes her dramaturg experience as intense but incredibly pleasing, and lauds “The Mill on the Floss” for being well written and well cast.
“Within ‘The Mill on the Floss’ lies subtle messages of our own lives and society,” said Sutton. “It gives us a chance to reflect and question if what we see is good and right. Not everything in the play is realistic. There are elements of surrealism within the production design and these are meant to help portray the concept of the piece. This includes elements such as the three Maggies.”
One of the unique aspects of this adaptation is the unconventional way it uses three actors to play the role of Maggie Tulliver. This allows the three women to portray the character’s internal conflicts of wants and needs as well as show how her actions impact her family and those she loves.
Adam Houghton, director of “The Mill on Floss” said, “This play is about many important ideas, but I am drawn to the way it reveals truth about families and the bonds we feel. The relationships are complex with pains and glories, injuries and forgiveness, pride and humility. I hope audience members viewing the play will leave the performance with new resolve to create loving and truthful relationships.”
Houghton said the students working on the play are his favorite part of the process because the cast members, stage management and student designers engage well with the text and bring good ideas to the collaborative process.
Spencer Hunsicker, who plays Tom Tulliver, Maggie’s brother, said being a part of the cast has been rewarding. “When I heard last year that Adam was directing a show, I wanted to know about it. I went to the library and checked out a copy of the script and I instantly fell in love. Helen Edmundson writes so beautifully and George Eliot's story is so wonderfully human.”
Until last year, Houghton taught at a university in Minnesota where he directed over 25 productions. “The Mill on the Floss” is his first production as a professor at BYU. “The students are demonstrating professionalism as they collaborate with me in design meetings and rehearsals. This is a good indicator that the department prepares students for professional opportunities they’ll have after they graduate. This has been a rewarding experience.”
Hunsicker credits the play’s British origin for its brilliance in writing and theatrical conventions. Having spent some time in England, he can attest to the difference between British and American approaches to theatre. Hunsicker said because there is a lot of fluidity of time and actors used, with very little spectacle, the imagination of the audience will be engaged and transported in a similar way to reading a profound novel like George Eliot’s.
“I think people should come see ‘The Mill on the Floss’ because they will find a reflection of their own relationships and particularly their own inner life,” Hunsicker said. “Maggie struggles to find belonging in her community and family and struggles against her own demons to find fulfillment and happiness. I think people will see themselves in the characters. Like all great drama, it holds a mirror up to life. Hopefully people will leave the theatre with a resolution to be kinder and more compassionate in their families and communities.”
There will be post-performance discussions on Nov. 9 and 16, as well as an ASL-interpreted performance on Nov. 9. For more information, visit the fourth wall dramaturgy site here.