Hattie is a mixed-race business lady. She needs art and intersectional feminism to survive her day job.

Goldie is a director in Philadelphia.

Goldie

Let’s start with what’s in our pockets. I have to say that from where I was sitting I could not see the performer at all if she sat down, so I was experiencing this mostly as an audio drama. Also, I am a huge fan of Jennifer Summerfield’s, I’ll see anything with her in it, and also I already loved this text. So I was going in set up to like it. What was in your pockets?

Hattie

I also already really loved this text. I first read it in high school and it stayed with me. And I am a friend and fan of Josh Hitchens’. I’m not sure that liking the text necessarily set me up for loving the show. I think if anything, there was a bigger chance that I’d be upset if it wasn’t treated properly.

Goldie

Makes sense.

Hattie

Because it’s such a surgical dismantling of all sorts of patriarchy. So if the play didn’t feel that way I might have been upset. I’m curious why the writing was meaningful to you and thus the play.

Goldie

For a couple of reasons. First of all, because I find any testimony about the dismissal of women’s experience to be comforting and validating. Secondly, because I’m in awe of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ability to both realize and articulate that in a climate where it was taken for fact and never called out, and thirdly because we are in this cultural moment which is about telling people what they are and not listening to them as a means of oppression and it feels good having that legitimized right now. You?

Hattie

Very similar. I think I’ll always have this special place in my heart for work that tells stories that are incredibly specific but serve really perfectly as allegories for bigger things. In this case, you’ve got ostensibly one woman’s descent into madness at the hands of one man, but it’s built out in a way that makes you feel like in every room in every house there are women slowly losing their minds at the hands of many men. And that’s important to me, because that actually HAS been part of my experience as a woman

Goldie

Amen to that.

Hattie

And I hope that when someone else bears witness to a work that evokes that universal they realize that maybe lots of other people are experiencing this.

Goldie

I think I’m just giddy whenever I see myself reflected in something? Like you said, it’s a very specific experience that speaks to a very general one. If The Yellow Wallpaper were about a man, it would be required reading. It is that kind of universal. So yeah, I lose my shit every time  a story is like “Oh, hey, you are also a person.”

Hattie

It came straight for me, this play. I really do want to congratulate them on not losing the universal feel. It would have been very easy for this to become a mouth frothing “look at the crazy lady!” performance. I  think lesser artists might have indulged in that (apologies to lesser artists.)

Goldie

Never apologize to lesser artists.

Hattie

Very well. Do better, lesser artists.

Goldie

You were saying how you felt about the treatment of the text?

Hattie

I was pretty darn impressed. On a technical level, you’ve made a first person journal-style piece of prose into a solo show, and it stayed dynamic. That I credit to Josh Hitchens because of all his past experience transforming prose into solo pieces.

Goldie

I agree, although I could have done with more cuts. I think it could have been a little more streamlined.

Hattie

Yes. It’s kind of difficult for me to remember all the distinct wallpaper description moments. They’re critical, and beautifully written and pretty impressively delivered but there may have been one or two too many.

Goldie

I think so, too, and I could have lost a little description of the house. It reads well, but that’s a lot on an actress to deliver, especially with a lot of specific, outdated language. Besides, it’s more about how she feels about them than what the house is specifically like

Hattie

The only reason I’d be sad to see those go is because she’s so lovely in those moments and there’s this terrible wistfulness. She’s a person, she has things that she hopes for.

Goldie

Oh, I see what you’re saying. That’s a very good point. They do kind of ground her.

Hattie

You’re left thinking, “Damn, just let her sleep in the room downstairs. It sounds very nice!” It was funny, too, this play. The whole thing has this wonderful macabre humour and they didn’t lose it.

Goldie

You’re right. It was just the right tone for it. And the house was part of that. Something about it’s being a tourist attraction makes it self referential. It’s a space in which to reflect on history, not live it.

Hattie

Question for you on period dramas: do they give audience members a safe distance from upsetting things? Was there anyone in that room who walked out saying, “Oh sure, life for the ladies was bad in the 18whatsits but TODAYYYY no one is locked in an attic.” And is that person just a lost cause anyway?

Goldie

I guess it depends who the show is for. I like to think that it’s for me, as things so rarely are. I like the feeling of my foremothers reaching across time being like, yes, this shit is fucked up, I get it, you’re not alone. A feeling I imagine dudes get when they see Macbeth or whatever. (And by whatever, I mean anything.) It feels good to have a legacy to reflect on, which they get all the time. And if it’s not for me, I don’t really care if they have to sit there being like “what’s the point of this, why is this important?”

Hattie

I like this a lot. I think I am so used to feeling alienated that even when I see a thing that is for me, and I viscerally enjoy that communion, I start worrying about the people who won’t get it. The people things are normally for. Just…. otherhood problems.

Goldie

Worrying about dudes.

Hattie

And ladies.

Goldie

What ladies?

Hattie

Ladies who “don’t need feminism”…you know.   

Goldie

Oh! Those ladies.

Hattie

Yep! The happy non-others. Wherever they may be. Did Josh Hitchens pick the play? I just realized I assumed he adapted it, but I don’t actually know. To your earlier point it just feels so timely. And I’ve been feeling a little let down by the art I’ve consumed lately and whose voice is actually coming out on stage. This show was a nice antidote.

Goldie

Yes. Do you want to talk about the performance? Jennifer Summerfield is really compelling, although I only saw her when she stood in various beautiful pools of light.

Hattie

So very compelling. I had the benefit of her full face which was excellent. There were moments I’d like to talk about lighting-wise that were ambitious and great tonally but maybe weren’t all they could have been, but I’m imagining that was budget and space related too. Her principal spot was sitting in a chair (invisible to you), lit by the most amazing contemporary orb lamp which she “adjusted.”

Goldie

Oh man, I never saw the lamp

Hattie

Hmm… I’m betting more than a few experienced this as an audio play. The lamp was very cool. And very large. But the light was direct and really harsh, so the moment she turned her head away to scan the room it cast an intense shadow and you basically lost her face, which was great for mood but maybe a bit too binary? The best effect was when she opened the window and the “moon” shone through. I assume that’s when you saw her?

Goldie

I did, and then later when she was by the door and a square of light was on her. They were pretty photographs.

Hattie

Also favorite moment, when her unseen husband faints and she walks right over his prone body multiple freaking times.

Goldie

What did you think of her costume?

Hattie

That costume was suitably infantilizing. What did you think?

Goldie

There was something not quite right about it to me, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Hattie

I agree! What was it?

Goldie

I think that it was too angular rather than soft? Like there was a lot of starch in the collar and the front had boxy panels. I want to feel like she’s all wrapped up in gauze, not straightjacketed?

Hattie

It walked the line between baby dress and straight jacket to me. Mostly it just looked very uncomfortable to the modern eye. Did we rave about Jennifer Summerfield enough? I’m genuinely asking.

Goldie

Let’s do some more. She is very physically restrained, but all of her movements have purpose. She doesn’t do anything superfluous.

Hattie

Everything felt discovered. Which is impressive, given that she only had herself to rely on and feed back on. That was so much work and I felt like she made it look so easy

Goldie

She was very comfortable in the text.

Hattie

Very. The character just felt so present and real through her.

Goldie

She has that kind of timeless face and bearing, which help. I wish I had seen more of it. For obvious reasons I wish she hadn’t been sitting as much, or that there had been a way to raise her on a platform. The way the chairs were placed, with no height difference and no staggering, I didn’t see the “set.” Did you find it effective?

Hattie

It was very simple and I think it totally worked. It was a chair, a side table, the lamp on the table. The window was the other thing she interacted with as mentioned. Jennifer Summerfield spent most of the time sitting, but she did interact with those few items quite a bit. Memorably in her last bout of madness she starts trying to move the bed which has been mentioned many times and has built up a sinister character of its own. Of course, there was no bed, but she used the back of the chair instead and it worked. It was a good moment of physicality. I liked that I just imagined the bed instead of seeing it.

Goldie

Oh, yes, I did see that and thought it was a good choice! Is there anything else that you want to mention?

Hattie

Final words: it fed my soul to hear and see it. I applaud the work that went into it and all the brains that made it.

Goldie

Agree. Also, I love small, site-specific work. More of that please. There is so much freedom in small.

Hattie

Moar!

Goldie

Good, now that we have expressed what we want in theatre Dionysus will grant it.

Hattie

High fives!

Goldie

High fives, god of wine!

 

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