In the first three sections of Jaclyn Backhaus’s Wives, we laugh, we agree and we see the logic if “we actually grew to like each other,” even if we are acting out of our own needs. For after all, if a man cheats, why not blame the man and pity the woman? We first arrive in the 16th Century France, King Henri II (Sathya Sridharan) is cheating on his wife Queen Cathy de Medici (Purva Bedi) with Diane (Aadya Bedi). In the meantime, the cook (the droll Adina Verson) is giving us cooking lesson. When Henry dies jousting, he asks for Diane and in his will gives her the chateau. Cathy however has the last laugh and cuts Diane out of the will, that is until the two bond. Diane drinks gold for youth, but now it is her intellect that will save her. What lessons is the cook giving us and who really does the jousting. Backhaus, uses these as her feminist lance.
The play moves forward in time as they dance to “A Wife’s World”. It is now 1961 and we are in Ketchum, Idaho for Ernest Hemingway’s funeral. The first, second and forth wives gather for a bit of conversation and drinks. I was at the memorial for Norman Mailer and all of six of his wives acted in the same manor. Each thinking that she was the love of his life and realizing she wasn’t. Here Hemingway is turned into an overstuffed marlin. How befitting!
Back in time again to the 20’s and we are at the Madhavendra Palace in Rajasthan, India. Mr. Patterson (Verson) sees evil in the healer Witch Roop Rai (Purva Bedi). The Maharani (Aadya Bedi) has a newborn child and welcomes Roop Rai’s help with her husband (Sridharan). In a sense they are the perfect threesome, that a Brit finds unacceptable.
Now in present time, we finish at Oxbridge University. Witch and sophomore college student’s (Verson) idol is Virginia Woolf. Stirring up a potion, she draws in a fellow student, whose ancestors call for her to break the ties. In a sense the 4th section seems contrived and doesn’t fit the other 3 sections, which call for bonding with your fellow females, forgiving the betrayals and sharing the male.
This cast is exquisite, playing multiple roles both physically and emotionally. We always know exactly who each of these characters are.
Margot Bordelon’s direction is smart and razor quick. Reid Thompson’s scenic design and Valérie Thérèse Bart costumes, set the time periods, with the lighting by Amith Chandrashaker, casting the perfect shadows.
Backhaus has a fresh take and for the most part, I bought into her message. I just think it needs to stay on point and not wander to the stars in the last section. At this stage in our humanity, we could all use some bonding.
Wives: Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42 St.until Oct. 6th.