“Sometimes it isn’t so good to go inside your head, Sylvia,” declares her mother Frances in this hands-down, must-see world-premiere drama by Any Grau Duvall. It is the impressive work of a talented local playwright and it moved the Apothecary audience to tears as well as swift applause and genuine contemplation.
Joan Croker is quietly convincing in her lead role of Sylvia, the eponymous Old Town wife, while the remarkable Heather Bagnallo Scheeler plays her dream-symbolic Jungian archetype and alter-ego, the vixenish vamp Prentiss, clad always in tight, revealing body stocking – a fantasy figure and feral femme fatale, crouching sensually and slinking serpentine about the stage breathing at times heavily, a huntress indeed, calling forth to Sylvia: “come with me” as she purrs that “Dan doesn’t have a clue the kind of passion you could have.”
To be fully female is to be fierce. That is the cry from Prentiss who from her loins and logic tempts Sylvia with such tidbits from Konrad Lorenz as “of course it is human nature to be aggressive” and “to be violent is necessary.” And referring to Sylvia’s husband Dan (the talented Ned Read )she asks Sylvia, “who is he to talk of perfection?” and scoffs at men in general and at one in particular as just “another great American man-boy.”
Speaking of marriage, the great threat always to love in much of fiction, except perhaps Jane Austen, listen to what Sylvia hears from her mother (a spot-on portrait of seething but tightly-sealed repression by Mary Suib): “how can you stay together when you’re not screwing each other’s brains out?” and then she counts the ways – conforming to social expectations and upper-middle-class wifely financial exigency – she herself has done so!
But then there’s Sylvia’s friend Kate, a delicious but discreetly careful wanton of a woman played like a cookie loaded with arsenic by Fringe first-timer Paula Rich). Kate, who would feel right at home in her Manolos in an episode of “Sex and the City,’ vollies back: “But how can you stay together if you’re screwing someone else’s brains out?”
Un-Natural History, skillfully directed by Gae Schmitt, shifts in and out of “magical realism” – sometimes clearly depicting Sylvia’s fantasy life and her nearly socratic-style dialogues with the sensuous siren Prentiss, her “Id” alter-ego. Magical realism is of course a familiar trope of Latin American literature – witness the novels of Gabriel Marquez – so it should come as no surprise that the playwright is Latina, a Cuban-American who grew up in the Miami area.
Will Sylvia and Dan mend their marriage or end it? Is there room for lifestyle compromise? At the play’s end Dan tells her, “I still need you, but where does it leave me when you don’t want to be any part of ‘us’?” Replies Sylvia, “tell me what you want” and the last lines of the play are these ambiguous ones, “so how do we build a life together?”
The ending is open and uncertain and haunting. The plays ends, the future beckons.
Un-Natural History of an Old Town Wife
by Any Grau Duvall
directed by Gae Schmitt
reviewed by David Hoffman
Running time: 60 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?