Wives, by Jaclyn Backhaus, is both a serious and over-the-top crackling, comically directed (by Margot Bordelon) tour through history beginning in 16th century France with Catherine de’ Medici, a dead husband and his live lover; jumping to Idaho in 1961 with a girl's night out with Hemingway's wives and a fish; leaping to the magic of Rajasthan, India in the 1920s under British rule and the power of everyone being a wife; and firmly landing in the present at Oxbridge University at a newly formed club for concocting witches’ spells.
Playwrights Horizons' world premiere of Wives plays in four acts with no intermission, entertainingly delving into world history where women are told that they don’t exist and are forgotten in its pages. “In the history of women, men live at the center and women trail longly after them.” But behind every man that makes the history books is one or more forgotten woman playing “sidekick to the monument” that truly made them who they were. The play is a behind the scenes journey of the male-focused history books applying forgotten truths to establish the purpose of place of women and culminating in an inner journey of personal power that physically expands the theatre and spills off the stage and into the audience with its power (I don’t mean to be too esoteric in that last sentence, but the end of the play and the inner journey of self-discovery is firmly built on the previous wacky history lessons and could only have gotten there because of the romp through history.). The play doesn’t necessarily give out answers but instead sharply highlights the questions for you to resolve within yourself.
I need to highlight the wonderful acting that provided the updraft and roars of laughter that helped to keep this piece in the air: Purva Bedi, Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi and Sathya Sridharan each brought their own talents in character creation and personalities to fluidly fabricate a tight and strong ensemble that effortlessly shoulders the weight of the material and the magnitude of history that it plays with. They each have their star-turn and wallow in the glory of it with impunity. I must also mention a big part of the excellent ensemble of this piece was the technical crew that added so much to the life and magic of this play.
The beginning of the production is a little trite, but please hang on, because the full ride of the play is more than worth it, fast and furious, imaginatively plummeting the depths of history and our human experience that will leave you feeling uplifted and cheering the power of both women and humanity as a whole that we all have and have had. The culmination of the evening at the end of the play will leave you with a truth that, “Everything about you is right.” What a gift to walk out of the theater with.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"Under the typically antic direction of Ms. Bordelon (who did the rock-bio spoof Dave and Eddie), this is all performed with enjoyable brio by the cast of four. (Ms. Verson, who is hilarious as a Julia Child-like 16th-century French cook, could slide right into the ensemble of Saturday Night Live.) But as the focus keeps shifting, the energy dissipates. The play starts to feel like a stoned brainstorming session in a college dorm room, whose participants segue from delighted goofiness into sloppy, sentimental sincerity. Like such gatherings, Wives doesn’t quite know when to call it a night."
Ben Brantley for New York Times