Playwrights Horizons' WIVES to Star Purva Bedi, Adina Verson, and More
Playwrights Horizons begins its 2019/20 season of works from groundbreaking playwrights pushing their singular styles to new heights with Wives, written by Jaclyn Backhaus (Playwrights: Men On Boats, Other Off-Broadway: India Pale Ale) and directed by Margot Bordelon (Something Clean, Do You Feel Anger?).
Wives traverses time and place, from the brawny castles of 16th Century France (where King Henry II is about to die in the aftermath of a joust), to the rugged plains of 1960s Idaho (at the freshly dug site of Ernest Hemingway's, aka Big Ern's, grave), to the strapping fortresses of 1920s India (where Maharaja Madho Singh II has fallen "under the influence of his travel partner and fave concubinea??the noted WITCH Roop Rai"). In each setting, we're introduced to the Wives and paramours of these Great Men-and shown what happens once the crushing weight of their Greatness has been lifted.
In this kaleidoscopic comedy, Jaclyn Backhaus pushes past patriarchal cliché to reach an ecstatic breakthrough, untethering stories and history-and language itself-from the visions made by men. The play makes its world premiere at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St), August 23-October 6.
The creative team includes Reid Thompson (Scenic Design), Valérie Thérèse Bart (Costume Design), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design), Kate Marvin (Sound Design and Original Music), J. Jared Janas (Hair and Wig Design), and Erin Gioia Albrecht (Production Stage Manager).
Wives originated unconventionally, as ideas for three wholly separate works. Backhaus did exploratory work with these three plays, until it dawned on her, she explains, that "they all had a similar frame-each story was set in a very specific place; each story involved multiple women orbiting around one central man."
She adds, "That was the jumping-off point for me: the chance to explore a larger hypothesis around the three scenarios in conversation with each other." Writing into this juxtaposition proved an elucidating act.
Backhaus' process also involved thorough historical research-and a thorough irreverence toward any notion of historical accuracy. She notes that her keen interest in the emotional truths of the women she was writing about liberated her from historical fact.
Wives' world premiere marks Backhaus' return to Playwrights Horizons following 2016's acclaimed Men On Boats, a co-production with Clubbed Thumb, which The New York Times in a Critics' Pick review called an "infectiously vivid" "rollicking history pageant" whose "perspective is that of a contemporary reader filtering accounts of another age through her own latter-day sensibility." In her newest work, Backhaus continues to relish the potentials of applying a contemporary artistic sensibility to the past.
Wives expresses thematic links between three histories and our present with 21st century-colloquialism-rich speech that wavers between anachronistic hilarity and incantatory poetry.
Backhaus explains, "It's sort of a writerly impulse of mine: the first entry point in my writing comes from a very personal place, and anachronistic writing is my attempt to access characters in my voice, who might otherwise be inaccessible to me. It's an initial way in, but as I revise toward what is delightful to me in later drafts, a lot of that language stays in because writing it was fun and pleasurable; it made me want to write more, and faster. What's been really fun about this particular project is balancing the research that has informed the play, the anachronism in the language, the various worlds of the play, and their stakes."
Margot Bordelon says, "The language may read as contemporary-even casual-but the actors must have a strong facility with language to navigate it well. The play demands actors who are both masterful technicians and natural comedians who possess deep emotional access. The text builds to a poetic, heightened place-it transcends comedy and moves into another form completely."
Backhaus' treatment of literature in the play also speaks to its themes: though Ernest Hemingway-the egomaniacal, tortured masculine quintessence of the figure whom various societies had spot-lit and worshipped for generations-physically appears, it is Virginia Woolf whose ideas (particularly those explored in A Room of One's Own) pulse through the play. Backhaus re-centers history around the women associated with male historical figures, as the play sails through time towards a cathartic unburdening (in a final, Woolf-inspired setting).Wives is not a period piece, but a fantastical, socially satiric reimagining of history, brimming with equal portions acid and hope.
Performances for Wives are on Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2 and 7. Opening night is on Monday, September 16, and tickets go on sale on July 30 at noon and are available at phnyc.org or by calling Ticket Central at 212 279 4200.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos