‘Maurice’: a moving dramatization of E. M. Forster’s classic novel at New Conservatory Theatre Center

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 4/5 Stars » Well Worth Seeing)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

E. M. Forster, one of the most admired of 20th century English novelists, wrote the gay love story Maurice in 1913, but would not permit it to be published until after his death. It was famously dedicated to “a happier year”. It tells the story of a young man, Maurice Hall, who is conventional in every way. His father has passed away, and he lives with his mother and sister in blissful conventionality, attending school as required, and settling into the conventional life of a banker. He is entirely unremarkable and rather dull. What saves him from a trivial and unexamined life is the inner pressure of his homosexuality. In the course of the novel, he enters into an unsatisfying Platonic friendship with a classmate, seeks help from physicians, is driven to madness and near suicide and ultimately finds happiness in the arms of a working class lover. It is Forster’s marvelous insight that Maurice’s acceptance of his homosexuality awakens not only his physical passion, but his social conscience and his spirituality. It is not only a matter of expressing personal passion but of escaping the constrictions of the conventional, class stratified, straight jacketed and soul destroying culture of Edwardian England. Thus, Forster’s gay Maurice achieves a universal significance. It is a wonderful book.

(from l to r) Alex Kirschner as Clive Durham, Andrew Nolan as Alec Scudder and Soren Santos as Maurice Hall in New Conservatory Theatre Center's Production of "Maurice", adapted by Andy Graham and Roger Parsley from the novel by E. M. Forster. Photo credit: New Conservatory Theatre Center

The dramatic adaptation by Andy Graham and Roger Parsley is workmanlike and effective, framing the story around Maurice’s search for a medical cure and utilizing flashbacks efficiently. It works with wonderful success under George Maguire’s skillful direction with a cast of actors who hit all the right emotional stops. Soren Santos (as Maurice Hall) and Alex Kirschner (as Clive Durham) are sweet and touching as the young Cambridge gentlemen playing at unconsummated Platonic love. Andrew Nolan (in the dual roles of fellow student Risley and working class gardener Alec Scudder) is a breath of passionate fresh air, intellectually (as Risley) and then physically (as Scudder). He does a superb job of differentiating the two characters, bringing Forster’s story to vibrant life. It is easy to see how Maurice falls so easily in love.

John Hurst in multiple stodgy roles, Lindsey Murray as Maurice’s kind yet confused mother, and Hilary Hyatt playing Maurice’s sister and, later, Clive’s wife, skillfully round out the cast.

Fans of the novel or of the 1987 Merchant Ivory film will not be disappointed and the production will surely attract new admirers of Forster’s lovely story.

Maurice continues at the New Conservatory Theatre through March 25. For further information click here.

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“Maurice”, a play by Andy Graham and Roger Parsley, adapted from the novel by E. M. Forster. Director: George Maguire. Set Design: Kuo-Hao Lo. Lighting Design: Christian Mejia. Costume Design: Jorge Hernández.

Soren Santos:Maurice Hall. John Hurst: Mr. Ducie/Mr. Lasker Jones/Dr. Barry. Alex Kirschner: Clive Durham. Andrew Nolan: Risley/Alec Scudder. Lindsey Murray: Mrs. Hall. Hilary Hyatt: Ada Hall/Anne Woods.

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