The "romantic, poignant drama set just months before the start of World War II" is based on actual events, centering on Frieda Weekley, whose passionate affair with D.H. Lawrence led her to leave her husband and children in England.
"Years later, after Lawrence's death, Frieda lives in Taos, New Mexico with her Italian lover Angelo," according to New Harmony notes. "Her grown son Monty unexpectedly comes to see her for the first time in years. Questions of forgiveness and love are explored through humor, grace and the mythos of the American southwest."
The all-Equity cast includes Jana Robbins as Frieda Lawrence, Tim Artz as Angelo Ravalgi, Larry Gleason as Monty Weekley and Jeremy Holm as the Kiowa Warrior.
This will be Gleason's sixth role at New Harmony Theatre, and Holm's fourth. Robbins and Artz are making their NHT debuts.
New Harmony artistic director Scott LaFeber directs. According to New Harmony production notes, Thomas' script for A Moon to Dance By traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to Taos, New Mexico, before arriving in the hands of LaFeber.
"I sent my script to a friend in D.C. who had been a Broadway producer, just to get her impressions of the play, and she liked it tremendously," Thomas said. "Since it takes place in Taos, she thought it would be great to have a production there. She sent it to a designer, Holly Haas, who lives in Taos. Holly really liked it and it just so happened Scott LaFeber was her house guest at the time. Scott was heading back to New York and she gave him the script to read on the plane. He read it and called me. He said he'd like to talk about doing it at New Harmony."
Holly Haas designs the production for New Harmony.
Thomas, LaFeber, and Haas traveled together to the D.H. Lawrence ranch, about 20 miles outside of Taos. "That was a spiritual bonding we all had," Thomas said. "It was wonderful. I’m glad we had that opportunity. We stood and looked out at the vista the characters see in the play. Everything is very much the same as it was back in 1939….the smell of the juniper trees and the evergreen, and the sound of the whistling of the trees off Lobo Mountain. Hopefully, the audience will be transported in their imaginations to that place."
Playwright Thomas has written several other plays, as well as for film and television. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he was associate playwright/director at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, artistic director and head of the Drama Department at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and an associate member of the Playwright Unit at the acclaimed Circle Repertory Theatre in New York.
He is a member of the Playwright/Directing Unit of the Actor's Studio in Hollywood, the Dramatists Guild, The Writer's Guild of America, The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and has been a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts.
"I was intending to write about Lawrence and Frieda, but I became more fascinated with Frieda than I intended," Thomas admitted.
Frieda abandoned her husband and three children – including 12-year-old Monty – for Lawrence, who was her husband's student. Even after Lawrence's death, Frieda stayed in Taos with her Italian lover, Angelo, and never returned to her family in England.
"They were estranged for all those years, and Monty was quite bitter about it, as you can naturally understand," Thomas said. "Imagine if you’re 12 years old and your mother runs off, leaving you."
In her Broadway and regional-theatre career, Robbins has recreated a number of great roles, such as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Dr. Livingstone in Agnes of God, as well as covering Mama Rose in Broadway's Gypsy and the two leading ladies in Broadway's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.
"But this is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to create a role of this caliber," Robbins said.
A Moon to Dance By runs July 8-24 at The New Harmony Theatre, Murphy Auditorium, 419 Tavern Street, in New Harmony, Indiana. Performances are at 7:30 PM Thursdays; 8 PM Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 PM Sundays. There will be an additional matinee at 2 PM Saturday, July 23. Tickets are $22, with discounts for seniors, students, and groups. For tickets, call (877) NHT-SHOW or visit www.newharmonytheatre.com.
NHT is the resident professional theatre company the University of Southern Indiana of nearby Evansville. The town of New Harmony, in the middle of farmland, is on the banks of the Wabash River in southwestern Indiana. Now in its second decade, NHT operates under an Actors' Equity Association LORT contract. Rehearsals are in Evansville, IN, and performances are in New Harmony, a burg founded as a spiritual sanctuary that later "became a haven for international scientists, scholars and educators who sought equality in communal living," according to newharmony.org.