Last Thursday, the theatre and drama studies program premiered The Wo/Man, a play based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Directed by Rachel Blair, the production was created and performed by the third-year TDS class at UTM as part of their Studio Series.
This production features Emily Clarke, Mackenzie Connelly, Jennifer Francis, Rachel Lebovic, Sam Madeira-Costa, KhaRå Martin, Amanda McPherson, Lucy Morgan, Jillian Robinson, Zenia Sethna, Hannah Termaat, Kaitlyn White, Khira Wieting, Eric Gordon, Soykan Karayol, Kyle McDonald, Peter Moceri, Michael Ruhs, Jake Settle, and Jackson Watt-Bowers. The two leading roles are played interchangeably, according to gender, by each actor and actress.
Set in the mid-1940s, WWII has ended in a victory for the Allies. In the midst of the celebration, the story shifts to John and Evelyn. John is a doctor, while Evelyn is an aspiring writer. She is an ambitious woman who embodies the female ideals of the time: progression, independence, and freedom by stepping into the workforce. However, her dreams are suddenly halted when she gives birth.
Evelyn faces serious trouble when the baby is born. Every day when John leaves for work and Evelyn is left alone, she repeats, “I don’t know what I’m doing”. Her frantic nature and uncertainty result in the untimely death of her child. The remainder of the play follows the couple’s downward spiral as a result of the tragedy.
Throughout the play, all performers are on stage at all times. Since the play only has two main characters, each performer takes turns playing a main role. The remaining performers act in the chorus until their turn arrives as the lead.
The cast wore a similar wardrobe throughout—the women in red dresses and the men in white shirts and black dress pants. While it’s common for the chorus to dress alike, the performers in this production slip in and out of lead and chorus roles, creating the effect of a collective character. The cast used dramatic elements to place focus on the protagonists, but consistently acted as though they were the same.
This becomes extremely important while Evelyn comes to terms with the death of her child. She complains of seeing women and hearing voices. These women turn out to be Evelyn’s inner demons manifested into a distorted reality. As she copes with her traumatic experience, John represses all of his emotions. His way of coping consists of purchasing expensive gifts and a big house for Evelyn.
The climax of the play occurs when John gives Evelyn her final gift: a journal. Evelyn’s career as a writer had been long forgotten in favour of more “feminine” tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. She welcomes the journal and writes down all her thoughts about John. She struggles to tell him that they can no longer be together because of his inability to communicate. She feels that she’s been held captive, with nothing to do but stare at the walls and no one to talk to but the voices in her head.
Evelyn once had ambition, but becomes trapped in her grief and her role as a wife. The Wo/Man traces her journey towards autonomy and female agency. The script follows the decline and ascent of one woman’s development during a time when female independence was merely an evolving concept.
The Wo/Man ran in Deerfield Hall until Sunday November 13.