The Yellow Wallpaper
nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
August 14, 2006
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a 19th century feminist writer who had numerous bouts with mental illness over the course of her life. For one bout of depression she was prescribed a lengthy period of bed rest, which, Gilman felt, was more harmful than curative. She later wrote a short story called "The Yellow Wallpaper," which was based on her experiences at the hands of the patriarchal medical community of her time.
The story is narrated from the perspective of a woman who suffers from, as her doctor husband calls it, a "temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency." She degenerates into insanity after being forced to remain in bed for months, during which time, she becomes fixated on the wallpaper in her room, developing delusions that there are women living inside the paper, creeping around, and trying to escape.
The story has been adapted into film, and even used for some horror flicks too (ghost people inside the walls), and now Brian Madden has loosely adapted it for the stage. Madden has taken some liberties, introducing a side story about a modern woman whose tale unfolds simultaneously with the 19th century plot. Madden also makes one of the women inside the wallpaper an actual character onstage. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from the narrative of the short story, which makes the play talky and droning much of the time. This is all delivered by a competent cast (Shawneen Rowe and Jenna Morris), but Madden's adaptation can often be dull, especially for those who are already familiar with Gilman's short story.
Director Edward Warren doesn't do much to make the show more engrossing. Due to the nature of the story, there's not much action, and there are many languid pauses during the show, usually when the two cast members transition from the 19th century characters to the modern setting. The fact that there are two stories to be resolved, plus a twist ending of sorts, means that the play takes a very long time to go from climax to its final denouement. All of it suffers from a lack of proper pacing.
The set choices are a little perplexing, since there isn't any yellow wallpaper on the stage. There are strips of yellow fabric hanging over clothes racks to represent the wallpaper—and, yes, the Fringe Festival does place some limitations on the resources that its participants can use—but one would think that any play that revolves around wallpaper would have allocated more resources to its set.