{Lenox, MA} - Artistic Associate and critically-acclaimed actor Dan McCleary (Macbeth, Coriolanus, Herman Melville) makes his Shakespeare & Company directing debut with a play ideally suited to the regal intimacy of Spring Lawn Theatre - Vita & Virginia.

Adapted from the correspondence between celebrated authors Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West by Eileen Atkins, Vita & Virginia marks the much-anticipated return of actress Tod Randolph to the role that won her acclaim in both Virginia (1993) and A Room of One's Own (1999) at Shakespeare & Company. Catherine Taylor-Williams (The Valley of Decision) returns to Spring Lawn as the aristocratic, best-selling "Sapphist," Vita.

Every word in the play was originally written by either Virginia or Vita, both prolific novelists/poets and journal-keepers of England's Modernist movement in the early 1920s (including the Bloomsbury Group). Most of the play's text comes from their correspondence to one another, but the women also speak some of the words from their diaries, letters to others (about the other), and their own novels and poems. Their written words have been crafted into a full-length spoken dialogue.

Vita & Virginia follows their relationship through the longing, the hidden jealousies, the loving subtext, and their relative alienation of the 1930s when Vita began her retreat to her gardens at the now-famous Sissinghurst Castle. It wasn't until the German invasion that the two writers re-discovered their need for one another, notably so during the London bombing. Virginia's suicide in 1941 took Vita by shock. The words that surround that event, and the words from future writings by Vita and the published journals of Virginia, tell the unspoken story of a tender, tragic dialogue which framed the genius that revolutionized literary and social history in the 20th century.

The play opens with Vita and Virginia's first impressions of each other after meeting at a dinner party given by Virginia's brother-in-law, Clive Bell, in late 1922. Virginia is age 40, Vita 30. Both women intuitively identify each other as someone they need and even desire to have in their life and work. Virginia asks Vita to write a story for the Hogarth Press, the small publishing company she owns with her husband, Leonard. Vita enthusiastically agrees and writes Seducers in Equador from Italy.

Books are sent back and forth between the two writers, Virginia sharing her two new novels, Mrs. Dalloway and The Common Reader. The two continue their friendship primarily through correspondence, as visits to Virginia's Sussex home, Rodmell, are made infrequently (Virginia's doctors forbade the strain of visitors, as they added to her already heightened state of excitement and illness brought on by her incessant writing). Vita learns her husband, Harold Nicolson, will be posted to Persia and she must join him for several months. However, Virginia manages to visit Vita before she leaves for Persia and it is during this time that they become lovers. As their relationship moves from professional, then friendly, and ultimately loving in 1925, the thin line between artistic inspiration, professional concerns, and romantic and maternal love blur into a new, untraditional shared life.

"Vita was a much more popular writer than Virginia when they met," says McCleary. "And as they continued to thrive on one another through the 1920s, Vita began embedding her controversial life-story in best-selling poems/novels of tradition like The Land and The Edwardians. Of course, Virginia claimed Vita as her own in the 1928 classic Orlando, which features the undisguised Vita as an androgynous, Elizabethan time-traveler whom she kills off in a complete re-working of the Victorian biographical form.

"Virginia was writing with a unique skill that allowed her to work from the inside out, unlike Vita (which caused Vita concern). Virginia, who would hear voices in her times of depression, could re-create the rhythm she heard and felt, making for challenging but illuminating reading. Their work changed as their relationship changed. They were each attempting to create their own life's narrative during a time when they were considered, as women, to be outside society. But as artists who loved each other, despite their disparate backgrounds, appearances, and writing styles, they made the other's voice stronger. It was in the safe haven of their writing where they could achieve some measure of the profound intimacy each desired."

Vita & Virginia originally transferred from London to Off-Broadway in 1994-95 with Ms. Atkins playing Virginia and Vanessa Redgrave playing Vita.

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
Vita Sackville was born an only child in Kent, England, at Knole Castle, originally a gift from Queen Elizabeth I to Vita's forebear, Thomas Sackville. In 1913, Vita married diplomat Harold Nicolson following her passionate affair with Rosamund Grosvenor, an act that would be carried out with both men and women for both Vita and Harold throughout their accommodating marriage. Vita made little secret of her liaisons with Virginia, Hilda Matheson, Mary Campbell, Evelyn Irons, Dorothy Wellesley, and her life-long companion, Violet Keppel Trefusis. Vita and Harold had two sons, Nigel and Benedict, by 1917. Once Knole passed out of the now non-male Sackville family, Vita and Harold purchased the ruins of Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, re-creating the sprawling Elizabethan home and grounds into today's tourist destination. Vita's novels, poems, and biographies include Heritage (1918), The Dragon in Shallow Waters and Knole and the Sackvilles (1922), Challenge (1923), Seducers in Ecuador (1924), The Land (1926), Aphra Behn (1927), The Edwardians (1930), All Passion Spent (1931), Sissinghurst (1931), Pepita (1937), and Solitude (1938). She would publish 17 more works after Virginia's death, including her still-popular books on gardens and gardening.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Virginia Stephen was married to Leonard Woolf for 29 years and together they operated their Hogarth Press out of their home, printed many seminal works, including those of Freud. Virginia was influential in England's Modernist movement of artists, most of whom congregated around her and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell. The group that met in Bloomsbury included Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, and Clive Bell. It is speculated that Virginia suffered from acute depression, what is now known as bipolar disorder. And after her mother died at an early age, and then her father and brother, Virginia made multiple attempts at suicide while in her periods of depression, grimly succeeding in 1941 by drowning herself. Her novels and biographies include The Voyage Out (1915), Night and Day (1919), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), The Common Reader (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), A Room of One's Own (1929), The Waves (1931), Three Guineas (1938), Between the Acts (1941), and The Death of the Moth published after her death in 1942.

The two-person, full-length play runs through August 31, playing Tuesday-Thursday at 8:00 pm and on weekend mornings at 10:30. For tickets and a free season brochure call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353 or log onto the Shakespeare & Company Web site.

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