Although it is not immediately apparent from a survey of his accomplishments, Doug Wright is a sort of poet of artistic privation. He tells his most famous story, I Am My Own Wife, with thirty-five characters but he dispenses with thirty-four of the actors, leaving the entire tale in the hands of one protean (or perhaps Maysian) artist. In Wildwood Park, a nasty little hornet’s nest of a play, he sets his story in an 8,000 square foot mansion, where a very bad thing has happened, tucked away in an exclusive suburban village.
Ms. Haviland (Carol Randolph), a tightly wound real estate agent, is about to show the place to the mysterious Dr. Simian (Charles St. Charles) The part of the mansion is played by a bare stage – and your imagination.
Wright must have great respect for those in the acting profession, as he consistently makes things very difficult for them. Here he not only commissions them to construct the massive set through gesture, movement and implication, but he requires them to tell us a chilling tale by merely hinting at its contents. Wright slathers his dialogue with half-completed thoughts which border on absurdity (“The neighborhood,” Simian begins. “It exceeds my expectations. The trees are symmetrical. The mail-boxes have tiny flags. Along the alley, the trash cans all have matching lids.”) The actors must chill us with this dialogue, which at the same time must seem completely natural.
I have seen this play done by actors who are up to this challenge, and the result is absolutely mesmerizing. Here, regrettably, it is not. St. Charles gives us a Simian who possesses a certain quirky elegance, but he never goes anywhere with him. At the beginning of the play, he seems like a socially graceless medico, and that is how he seems at the end, and at every other moment in the play. He exhibits not a bit of menace, and when his climactic, confessional scene comes, it is startling and without meaning.
Randolph, an excellent actor (her turn as the mother-in-common-law from hell in 1st Stage’s Bog of Cats was superb) is largely at sea here. She moves from stoicism to emotional disintegration to rapture competently, but there is no real character arc: we can understand what she’s feeling, but we can’t understand why.
Blame for the production’s failure to find the play’s secret heart must fall on the producer and director, Sarah Holt. This is not to ignore the significance of her accomplishment: this is the first production of her new company, Mixed Minds, and she does much well, including using the tiny Mead Theatre space to effectively create the mansion. (Cory Ryan Frank’s lighting design is of notable help.) But after this production, the central mystery at the heart of Wildwood Park, much like the crime that took place in the home under examination, remains unsolved.
By Doug Wright
Directed by Sandy Holt
Produced by Sandy Holt and Mixed Minds
Reviewed by Tim Treanor