Review by Tulis McCall
(13 Oct 2010)
I just spent the better part of the morning reading this poem being staged at 59E59 Street. I also did a bit of research and found out that in this poem The First Voice is a woman who gives birth, The Second, a secretary, has a miscarriage, not her first, and the Third, a college student, gives birth after an unwanted pregnancy, and gives the baby up for adoption.
News to me.
This play seems to have been directed with the idea that we, the audience, will fill in the blanks; that we will know what is going on so the actors don’t have to work that hard. Frances Benhamou (The Wife) has the most clear cut job of the three, being a pregnant woman who gives birth and then marvels at this miracle.
Who is he, this blue, furious boy,
Shiny and strange, as if he had hurtled from a star?
What did my fingers do before they held him?
What did my heart do, with its love?
I have never seen a thing so clear.
His lids are like the lilac-flower
And soft as a moth, his breath.
Angela Church (The Secretary: Second Voice) and Kina Bermudez (The Student: Third Voice) do not fare so well, although on actually reading the text I can see what Plath wrote.
I am not ugly. I am even beautiful.
The mirror gives back a woman without deformity.
The nurses give back my clothes, and an identity.
It is usual, they say, for such a thing to happen.
It is usual in my life, and the lives of others.
I am one in five, something like that. I am not hopeless.
I am beautiful as a statistic. Here is my lipstick.
I am so vulnerable suddenly.
I am a wound walking out of hospital.
I am a wound that they are letting go.
I leave my health behind. I leave someone
Who would adhere to me: I undo her fingers like bandages: I go.
In reading the text I can see the mother, the woman who miscarries, the woman who gives up a child, but in this production, sad to say little of this is apparent. These actors are operating in a disconnected way that does not lend itself to Plath’s material. Small image follows small image. There is no sense of movement, the through line. When an image is achieved it is nearly by accident. This is what I mean by the work of figuring out the text being left to us. These actors are not guiding us; they are dropping words on a path and leaving them for us to find.
This is a relatively small piece of text (45 minutes) that, upon reading, bursts with a life pulse. It is intimate and shattering – not an “up evening”. But audiences are willing to go into the basement of a writer’s mind. Without despair there is no joy, after all. And in the act of discovering the basement there is a certain joy on our part, the joy of discovery, the joy of being slammed with an emotion for which there is no words, the joy of risking “Me too!” We are not only willing, we are eager to be led, to be taken out of our lives and dropped into a new land.
There is none of that in this production. The overall feeling in the theatre is one of absence, as if something had been taken away instead of added. While this may have been a theme of Plath’s life, one cannot put “lack” on the stage and expect people to gravitate toward it. There must be something active in order to make theatre. What do these characters want, and what will they do to get it? These actors have not been guided to pick through the many layers of Plath’s text and create that journey. Instead Shaw, who has directed this production in London, has orchestrated the actors to simply reflect the literal text with the result that they make choices that are cliché at best. What was intended to be a play is little more than recitation. The depth and intricacy of this piece is never in evidence.
This feels like a disservice all around: to us, to the actors, and to Sylvia Plath.
"There is no interaction among this trio, no specific storyline beyond a few elusive fragments, no conflict or dramatic action. To bring this eloquent but essentially untheatrical material to life is a challenge. Director Robert Shaw and his cast fail to meet it...The whole quick production left me cold and bored."
David Sheward for Back Stage