REVIEW: Jaclyn Backhaus’ hilarious new comedy: “Wives”
Jaclyn Backhaus’ hilarious comedy, “Wives”, flips the script in thrilling new ways, deconstructing the way in which women are “supposed” to behave, think, and feel about each other—that is according to the men who have all too often told their stories—through the lens of three semi-obscure historical episodes presented from the perspective of the “wives”.
As presented in four scenes that unfold on a clever set by Reid Thompson using doors and pull-down roller screens to quickly and effectively transform locales with the aid of Valérie Thérèse Bart’s on point period-specific costumes, Aadya Bedi, Purva Bedi, and Adina Verson inhabit the lives of women ranging from the palace of King Henri II in 16th-century France, to Ernest Hemingway's funeral in 1960s Idaho, and Maharaja Madho Singh II’s harem in 1920s India.
Ms. Backhaus’ “wives” span time and place, but speak in modern parlance as they discover their voices and strength, and forge their own stories—progressing, as she has suggested, from foes, to friends, to family. Sathya Sridharan plays (most of) the men. A final scene at the fictional “Oxbridge University” in the present connects the dots, dramatizing one woman’s journey to self-conception inspired by Ms. Backhaus’s “pregnancy brain”, as she humorously states in the program notes.
As always, Aadya and Purva Bedi are terrific, as is Ms. Verson, who I consider among the most unheralded chameleons of the stage and a top-rate comedienne as she alternately plays a dim-witted cockney cook, an uptight British official, and a coven-leading undergrad.
The play loses steam at times, and not all the comedy is evenly presented, but much as she did with “Do You Feel Anger?” for the Vineyard Theatre (read my review), director Margot Bordelon successfully creates a heightened world that remains grounded in truth, the chimeric result of which portends well for the future of storytelling—reclaiming space historically dominated by white men, and giving women of color, in particular, a platform for self-expression.
One of the greatest aspirations of any artist is to imagine how the world can be, instead of being complacent with the way it is. I belly laughed throughout this smartly satiric and forthrightly feminist play, but was still struck, in the end, by the poignancy of its story and the power of the world it imagines—no easy task, but one Ms. Backhaus and her collaborators achieve with aplomb.
Bottom Line: “Wives”, Jaclyn Backhaus’ smartly satiric and forthrightly feminist play, deconstructs the way in which women are “supposed” to behave, think, and feel about each other, and retells three historical episodes typically told through the male gaze, but this time from the perspective of the “wives”. The result is hilarious and poignant.
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West 42 Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: September 16, 2019
Final Performance: October 6, 2019