By the Light of the Silvery Moon (The Yellow Wallpaper)
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
July 22, 2008
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (The Yellow Wallpaper) is an adaptation of the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Published in 1891, the semi-autobiographical story is one of an unnamed young Victorian woman with a mysterious ailment (which may or may not be real). Her husband attempts to heal her with a "rest cure." The "rest cure" is just that—prescribed bed rest that prevents the young woman from reading, getting up, and even feeding herself. This so-called cure does the exact opposite of what it is intended to, by driving the young woman mad as she begins to see the wallpaper around her come alive.
In adapting this piece for the stage, playwright/performer Sara Jeanne Asselin has chosen not to modernize the setting—it is still 1891—but rather to modernize the central character and the style of performance. Our heroine is not a wilting wallflower, but a brassy dame, complete with loud mouth, and a fully developed sense of irony. This irony is also carried over into the performance style. The central character—performed by Asselin—is portrayed with a degree of realism, while all the other characters—played by the charming Keith Foster—are performed as pure camp caricatures. The choice to approach the story in this way allows the audience to see the central character as the only sane voice in a world of lunacy—a wry commentator on the bizarre circumstances she is a part of.
For many people in the audience, it seemed these choices were amusing and engaging, judging from their response. For me, however, this sense of irony deflated the central conflict of the piece, and kept me from feeling invested in the plight of this young woman. If the world around the central character is merely ridiculous rather than horrifying, her journey into madness seems unfounded, and the ending a forgone conclusion.
This sense of being unable to engage with the plight of this young woman may also have something to do with Asselin's performance itself. Asselin performs most of the piece as a direct address to the audience. Where Eagles Dare is a very intimate space, yet despite this Asselin's performance feels remote, and she often resorts to mugging and histrionics to get her point across. There is a moment, however, when this changes. In the middle of the piece, Foster and Asselin bring out a microphone and sing the title song, "By the Light of Silvery Moon." It is unclear why this is happening, or how it fits into the structure of the show, but as soon as the two of them begin to sing they are suddenly comfortable, and a joy to watch; Asselin easily brings the audience into the world of the song. This moment, as a well as a few theatrically dynamic moments towards the end, show the promise of what By the Light of the Silvery Moon could be. It's just unfortunate that the evening didn't have more moments like these.