Guest Blog: Portraying 'The Woman' in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER at OUT LOUD Theatre, Part 2—Light

by Ottavia Deluca

BWW Rhode Island welcomes the four-woman cast of OUT LOUD Theatre's The Yellow Wallpaper to the BroadwayWorld guest blog. The Yellow Wallpaper, directed by Kira Hawkridge, is the second installment in OUT LOUD's fifth season, "That Way Madness Lies." This production presents a fully immersive, four-part experience; each part tells a complete story from beginning to end, but the individual pieces - RITUAL, LIGHT, COLOR, and ESCAPE - provide meditations on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper as viewed through varying lenses. Ottavia De Luca joins BWW RI to explore "Light" in the second part of the guest blog series.


We all have the same yellow notebook to jot down our thoughts throughout the process. The first sentence in my notebook is: "you are never not your woman."

I find myself coming back to that sentence over and over again. In a way, it's obvious - you are always yourself. But there's more in there. It was an existential crisis right from the start, maybe in a good way. We all play the same Woman, so if I am "never not" my woman, then I am also always the other women in the room, since they are me. But at the same time, they too are trapped in themselves, so they can't really be me. It's this endless cycle that connects me so much to The Woman in the story: she is trapped and she is lost, and she needs to find herself and find her way out, and maybe that's the same thing.

This is an odd time to try to convey my feelings about The Yellow Wallpaper. We've been working on it since August of last year - talking, moving, planning, rehearsing - but now we're about to dive in to the truly intensive rehearsals before we open. I feel so close to the piece, yet still on the precipice of it. And so I must go back to the story, to the text. It's such a simple concept, but there is also so much subtlety and complexity there. On each page, The Woman is peeling away at something - maybe the wallpaper itself, maybe her condition, her own mind, how she really feels about her situation, about her life. I think that we're approaching each individual piece with this mindset - we are peeling away the layers of The Woman's story. It's pure discovery. And hopefully each of our journeys toward an attempt to understand her reveals a new and unknown part of her psyche, maybe a part that had been unknown to us until right in that moment, maybe a part unknown even to The Woman herself.

One question that has burned in my mind since I first read the story is: how long has this woman been here? The parameters of the story are clear enough - a woman arrives to a house, gets put in a room by her husband to get better because she's "unwell," and proceeds to lose her mind. The timeline we are given is "the summer." But reading and re-reading the story makes that timeline blur and eventually disappear. More than the scenario, it's about what it is like to live in her mind, to live with her uncertainty, her fear, her loneliness. Emotion takes over, beyond logic.

Maybe she has been in the room forever. Maybe the room is not a room in a summer house, but a room in a hospital, and the captor that had been a husband has become a doctor. Maybe The Woman has created the world around her because it's too painful to face the truth that she is stuck in her mind, in a locked room, forever and ever. I don't mean to say that I'm writing her off as "crazy," beyond saving or even connection. Not only would that reading of the story be too pessimistic, it would be boring. There's a reason why The Yellow Wallpaper has persisted as a powerful feminist piece for so long: her perspective and pain is real and valid, and she refuses to be passive in the face of it. If anything, she is too in touch with the things around her - she sees it all, she feels it all. It's cruel, it hurts. For me, this manifests in a primal way. My Woman is pushing against the walls, clawing, scratching, trying to find some liberation. There is hope for her, and we need to find it.

This is one of the reasons I chose to begin my piece, "Light," in the depths of her madness, as opposed to at the beginnings of it. In "Light," both the audience and I are thrown in mid-storm, in the most frightening place, the most visceral. She is feral for me then, just trying to survive. Throughout the piece, I will try to find my way out of my mind. Or maybe I try to find my way into my mind. Those two things are really one and the same for me, at this point. And it's impossible for anyone to find her way completely into or out of herself, but she's trying. As an actor, this is where the hope lies for me. I think this process is represented by the theme of light and shadows. I grabbed onto that at the very beginning. Moonlight, sunlight, artificial light - for me, these are all visual representations of everything The Woman sees and feels, and also what she wants to understand. The light can be faint in some moments, blinding in others. It's vivid, and she can follow it, but she can never hold it.

Every choice we make is so specific to our Woman. When I find myself describing this piece to friends, which is quite often these days because it's hard to contain my excitement, I can never quite find the words to express how special it is. I think that's okay. Something I love about this project, and about OUT LOUD Theatre in general, is that we strip a piece down to its essence, to the physical, the body. What I can't describe here, I hope the audience will feel. I feel it when I'm inside The Woman's mind, and when I'm in the blank space with my fellow actors, pushing against each other, reaching into each other, trying to see what we can find.

Lately, in rehearsal, I've been saying that The Woman is an open wound who will have to heal, somehow. But I don't really mean heal; a mental illness isn't necessarily something that needs "healing." I think what I mean is that we're trying to embody the wound, to honor it, to understand it. It will never go away, and it's different for each of us actors, and that's where the work begins each time, with each new performance in the cycle. It is an honor for me to do this work with these women, and I can't wait for the audience to experience the full cycle with us.


OUT LOUD Theatre Presents The Yellow Wallpaper: A 4-Part Immersive Experience: RITUAL | LIGHT | COLOR | ESCAPE from June 22 to July 9 at The Mathewson Street Theater, 134 Mathewson Street Providence, RI.

The Yellow Wallpaper is presented as a four-part series:

THURSDAYS - Part 1: Ritual (Featuring Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley)
FRIDAYS - Part 2: Light (Featuring Ottavia De Luca)
SATURDAYS - Part 3: Color (Featuring Sarah Leach)
SUNDAYS - Part 4: Escape (Featuring Erika Rethorn)

For full details and to purchase tickets, please visit www.outloudtheatre.org.

LIGHT Website Page: http://www.outloudtheatre.org/light.html
Ottavia De Luca's Ensemble Profile Page: http://www.outloudtheatre.org/ensemble-profile-ottavia-de-luca.html

Photography by Piquant Photo | Justine M. Johnson.

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