BWW Review: Jaclyn Backhaus' Frantically Funny and Freestyle WIVES Comments on Patriarchal Pigeonholes
The king is dead, and the women who were rivals for his affection suddenly realize he wasn't anything worth fighting over.
Okay, then... dance break!
And thus Jaclyn Backhause's frantically funny and freestyle commentary on how patriarchal history pigeonholes the women that clichés tell us were behind great men transitions between its first two episodes.
Directed with sharp comic finesse by Margot Bordelon and performed by a crackling good ensemble of four, Wives merrily barrels through its compact 80 minute running time until seamlessly blending into delivering its poignant message of not allowing those who would dominate women do so by dividing them.
The deceased king in question is Henri II of France (played by Sathya Sridharan with appropriately self-satisfied attitude), but before his demise we get glimpses of the intense rivalry between Queen Catherine de' Medici (ruthlessly fervent Purva Bedi) and the king's mistress Diane (suitably coquettish Aadya Bedi), who regularly downs bottles of gold-laced tonic.
It's prepared by the royal cook Augustine (wonderfully over-the-top comic antics by Adina Verson), who opens the play with a Julia Child-like cooking demo. ("A soggy onion is a rotten onion and in 16th Century France a rotten onion will kill you.")
The language between the queen and the mistress gets contemporary on occasion ("U fakeass bitch!"), but when there's no longer a man around to fight over, they begin to consider the worthiness within themselves.
"I've spent half my life wishing you were dead," contemplates Diana. "What a waste of a genius mind like mine."
"Wouldn't it be more interesting if we actually grew to like each other?" they consider. "To help each other. To lift each other up."
"A subversion of what everyone wants and expects to happen."
And so the play tours a bit of history with this concept. The next stop is a fashionable 1961 home in the hills of Idaho, where the widow of Earnest Hemingway and his two surviving ex-wives get together to drink several cocktails and trash their legendary spouse and the roles they played in the background as "sidekicks to a monument."
"We can never write ourselves because he wrote our history for us and it probably sounds something like 'she was a good wife and a loving wife and she never made me doubt her but she did make me doubt myself.'"
The ensuing scene, set in British-occupied India, advocates a feminist practicality in a two wives/one husband arrangement, and the final scenario, set in, as they say, Oxbridge University, has a new student (Aadya Bedi) encountering a cauldron-stirring woman (Version) who is a member of a commune of on-campus witches, establishing "a place where we are not scorned but celebrated."
"The aim for the fall semester is like 'is a commune like this sustainable on a historically patriarchal campus?!' And then the spring semester will be like postmortems and talkbacks about how it went!"
Although this male reviewer is familiar with the history of how woman abused by patriarchal norms have often turned to earth magic and similar traditions for support, he'll admit that the full message of this episode may have slipped by him. Still, through Backhause's empathetic writing and Bordelon's evocative staging, the finish is indeed intriguing, proving that Wives not only packs a lot of laughs, but a good deal of spirit as well.