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He Says: Playwrights Horizons’ Wives Smashes the Status Quo

He Says: Playwrights Horizons’ Wives Smashes the Status Quo

All the while, they wonder, what roles are they defined by? Will they ever transcend them?

“This is exactly what Playwrights Horizons should be doing”, said my good friend as we walked out of the theatre into the cool early fall night. And he had intrinsically encapsulated the whole evening with one quick statement. Because that is exactly what it is all about. Finding your own singular voice, and singing it out into the world.  Daring the off-Broadway audience to see into the ferociously funny satiric edge of Jaclyn Backhaus’ new play Wives, and discover all the new and thrilling ideas of language, structure, theme, and presentation, where anything is possible when blending politics and theatre. Backhaus (Men on Boats, India Pale Ale) formulates a smart study of feminist framework and faith in the future, if the right questions are asked, that speaks to our funny bone through our inquisitive intellect. The play also grabs hold of our limbs and forces a different narrative forward into the light of day. Questions seem to be at the root of this muscular joy of a play, noting that Backhaus writes in the playbill, “the answers to these questions are subjective, and the answers to these questions are often questions.” And when those questions are asked within Wives from one character to another, and to us, the answers are complicated and dense, but thoughtful and dripping with meaning and raw force.

WivesWritten by Jaclyn Backhaus Directed by Margot Bordelon
Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi, Purva Bedi in Wives. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Divided into four distinct but interwoven parts with an initial royal fanfare of delightful subversion, Wives, as directed with precision and wit by Margot Bordelon (Vineyard’s Do You Feel Anger?), at first gives us one thing, and then, with a quick “I dare you, bitch” dives headfirst into another, one that is more deliciously daring dynamic than the usual story. Playing roles that are seemingly both stereotypical and archetypical, the insurgent shift happens, as if their positions were blazoned across the chest in bold print, the magnificent and gifted three: Purva Bedi (PH’s Dance Nation) as Wife 1 (Queen Cathy and others), Adina Verson (Ars Nova’s The Lucky Ones) as Wife 2 (Cook and others), and Aadyna Bedi (Soho Rep’s Passage) as Wife 3 (Diane and others), tackle a past gender specific model that is so desperate in need of revisionary thinking, carving out a new feminist horizon from our historical traps.

WivesWritten by Jaclyn Backhaus Directed by Margot Bordelon
Sathya Sridharan, Purva Bedi, Aadya Bedi in Wives. Photo by Joan Marcus.

With Sathya Sridharan (NYTW’s An Ordinary Muslim) as the one and only Man (King Henri and others), the multitudes are reduced, one ingredient at a time, as the women conjure up a spicy stew of magical proportions with hopes that it will make everything about this whole and right. Putting forth a spell to expand the feelings and give voice to those who are only seen as “holes with blinking eyes“. It’s powerfully and radically fun and hilariously off balance, while never really being entirely straightforward.  With a strong clear visual appeal by scenic designer Reid Thompson (RTC’s Too Heavy For Your Pocket), with costuming by Valérie Thérèse Bart (Pearl’s Vanity Fair), lighting by Amith Chandrashaker (Soho Rep’s Fairview), and sound design and original music composed by Kate Marvin (TFANA’s Happy Days), each setting presents what happens when the crushing weight of the Great Men of each segment is lifted off the backs of those amazing women, and they are allowed to untether themselves from traditional roles and storytelling. The first two segments, diving into the castles and kitchens of King Henry II’s 16th Century France, and the Hemingway cocktail hour of 1960’s Idaho, the three women form a wonderfully engaging and ridiculously ingenious pack of warriors defying the patriarchal clichés of the period constructs. Completely magnificent they are, sharing truths and desires that should have always been said.  The other two segments, India in the 1920’s to the present day college experience of female writers and scholars, doesn’t live up to the same level of sharpness, although the message to untether oneself from the visions made by men remain focused. The comedy registers wisely and solidly, framed by required stances for the modern age. I got a bit lost in the final formulations, but the dare pays off in the whole, so thank you Playwrights Horizons for seeing clearly that the magic potion and incantation of Backhaus is so needed to battle the patriarchy that is breeding and breathing so freely before us.

And how good does it feel when a tyrannical force (external/internal) fucking dies?

WivesWritten by Jaclyn Backhaus Directed by Margot Bordelon
Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi in Playwrights Horizons‘ Wives. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Give her another hundred years, I concluded…let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book on of these days” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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