Rhode Islanders aren’t very eager to claim Charlotte Perkins Gilman as one of our own, though quite a bit of the author’s life was spent here. Her feminist utopian novella Herland is naïve and over the top, but no more ridiculous than anything Mr. Lovecraft was cranking out at around the same time. Gilman was an early member of the Providence Art Club, and earlier this year they exhibited one of her paintings, which debuted at the Art Club while Gilman was laid up in the hospital with a severe case of post-partum depression. That depression eventually led to the 1892 publication of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a singularly sad story about a woman confined to bedrest as a cure for depression.
It’s not a story that’s particularly adaptable for the stage – one-woman shows about depression aren’t an easy sell – and I wasn’t sure what to expect from writer/director Kira Hawkridge, who has been known to go off the deep end with her literary adaptations. (Her painfully slow and repetitive adaptation of Dracula last year remains the most insane show of this reviewer’s lifetime.) Stranger still, the unnamed Woman is played by four different actresses, each taking over the role on successive nights, and audience members are directed to come to any one or all four of the performances. Huh?
Each of the four nights has a different theme, and Thursday’s performance was called Ritual. After sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, filled with flowery wallpaper and copies of Highlights, two orderlies direct you to your seat while a repetitive pre-recorded voice tells you that it’s time to see the Woman. There she is, laid out on a platform in a darkened room, wallpaper cascading off the wall and crumbling on the floor. What follows is a silent performance, no more than half an hour long, during which the wallpaper closes in on the woman and then she freaks out. That’s it.
It’s very repetitive, which I guess is how you convey something called Ritual. I left very happy; the top floor of the Mathewson Street Church gets very hot very quickly, and in the summer that means that shorter is better. The staging was the best that I’ve ever seen at Out Loud; the sets and the costumes were quite effective. I wasn’t particularly sold on actress Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley, whose movement seemed very studied; maybe it was just the constricting corset? The other three women – playing the part of Wallpaper – seemed perhaps better trained in movement, and I’m tempted to go back to see what happens on another night.