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Theater Review • January 27, 2014
Review: The Yellow Wallpaper

Annalisa Loeffler in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER Press 1Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a 19th-century American feminist and writer, claimed that she wrote the short story "The Yellow Wall-Paper" in an attempt to relegate the "rest cure" -- routinely prescribed by doctors for 'nervous conditions' -- to the annals of medical history.  The story reads as the journal of its narrator, a woman who, suffering from depression and forbidden to read and write by her husband/doctor, John, scribbles her thoughts in secret and reads stories into the spiraling, 'suicidal' wallpaper of her room.

More than mere polemic, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" has also been read as Gilman's response to literature's "madwoman in the attic" -- the monstrous specter of Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre", for example.  Gilman's narrator may slowly be losing her grip on reality, but it is the faults and mistakes of those who dictate her life that bring her to breaking.  Greg Oliver Bodine's stage adaptation of the story, a one-woman play starring Annalisa Loeffer, happily seems also eager to dispel this literary trope, for the most part resisting temptation to reduce the character to cliches.  As director DeLisa M. White writes in the program notes, "The art of acting is the art of making empathy corporeal."  The embodiment of the narrator (here unambiguously named Jane) is itself an insistent reminder of her humanity.  Loeffler's Jane is much more than her illness. She is someone who smiles when she lies to herself; who wears boots in her bedroom and her hair piled on her head; who lies in bed when depressed; who takes on her husband's voice and stance when she reenacts their conversations; whose fingers smudge the crumpled paper on which she writes with such feverish determination.

Yet Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" is also a story about writing; it is a story in which the narrator writes, hidden inside parentheses, inside her hidden journal, "I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper."  Writing -- not just the words put down on the page, but the very act of it -- is subversive.

Annalisa Loeffler in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER Press 5To have these words spoken aloud -- and to an audience, no less -- enervates them.  Instead of reading an 'artifact' that is simultaneously a record of her rebellion and of her apparent descent into madness, we are witnessing the woman's life as she lives it.  Perhaps we may empathize with this Jane more readily than when she exists in paper -- though, to be honest, I don't think I've come across many people who don't feel a punch to the gut on reading the final lines of Gilman's story -- but in its transition to the stage, the story has been defanged.

A final note: given the limited resources of this production, the vague spirals that appear and disappear from the walls work well enough, but further consideration might be worthwhile.  Like the dagger and ghost of "Macbeth", the question of what the audience sees (or doesn't see) in the wallpaper seems essential here.

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