Entertainment » Theatre

The Yellow Wallpaper

by Christopher Verleger
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 29, 2017
The Yellow Wallpaper

Before you enter the performance space of any OUT LOUD Theatre production, you always know to expect the unexpected. Whether or not you're familiar (or even like or understand) the work on display, you know your senses are in for a thrill ride.

The always innovative Artistic Director Kira Hawkridge surprises her audience once again with OUT LOUD Theatre's latest project, "The Yellow Wallpaper," a four-part series based on a short story published in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. If you haven't read it, fret not, because all you really need to know is that it's about a mad woman confined to a room who becomes obsessed with the wallpaper, particularly its color, and the living beings she imagines exist within its design.

Each of the four unique segments -- Ritual, Light, Color, and Escape -- is presented on a different night, and all four actresses (Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley, Ottavia De Luca, Sarah Leach and Erika Rethorn) take their turn playing The Woman while the other three portray The Wallpaper.

Upon arrival, audience members check in with an attendant clothed in scrubs who directs them to a waiting room, much like a doctor's office, until a loud speaker announcement eerily indicates the time has come to join The Woman in a separate space. This clinical overture, however unsettling, purposely and effectively heightens the captive audience's curiosity, creating an aura of mystery for what lies in store.

With Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley as The Woman in Ritual, the actress stands center stage, surrounded by the other actresses who remain on the outskirts, equal distance from her and each other. A large yellow roll of paper unfurls in the bright backdrop and the floor beneath their feet is littered with strips and scraps. No words are spoken as their movements are repeated in sequence to thumping club music. The Woman appears almost at ease with the routine, until The Wallpaper seemingly takes on a mind of its own and breaks the cycle.

In Escape, the audience is offered cheese and wine and invited to browse and take a closer look at the stage and corner displays, all of which are roped off like exhibits at a museum or gallery opening. As The Woman, Erika Rethorn wanders about like a casual observer, as do the other three actresses, until she speaks, which brings her to a grinding halt and everything she says is repeated back by The Wallpaper. The Woman ends up center stage, but unlike Ritual, her repetitious movements are maddeningly frantic and jagged.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is unlike anything I've ever seen or witnessed, and I don't make such a statement often. (Coincidentally, I think the last time I might have said it was after another OUT LOUD production.) The concept, direction, presentation, and performances are all startlingly original and delivered with raw, painstaking emotion.

The actual story is rife with themes of female oppression and male domination, yet Hawkridge purposefully hones in on The Woman's erratic albeit deliberate thought processes and allows them to live and breathe on their own. I haven't yet seen Light or Color, but considering how haunted, perplexed and affected I felt after Ritual and Escape, I can only assume they are equally compelling and disturbing.

My only gripe -- and I can't imagine this will come as any surprise to the director -- is that they're too brief. I understand why it might not be logistically possible to showcase more than one segment in a single evening, but as much as you want to leave your audience wanting more, the running times are unusually (and almost annoyingly) short.

That said, I won't say anymore that might deter anyone from appreciating "The Yellow Wallpaper," because it's an extraordinary, unique theater experience.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" runs thru July 9 at Mathewson Street Church, 134 Mathewson Street in Providence. For information and tickets, email outloudtheatre@gmail.com or visit www.outloudtheatre.org

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.


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