nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
October 8, 2010
Director Robert Shaw has done everything to assure that audiences focus on the language and imagery of Three Women, Sylvia Plath's play, now at 59E59. His design team uses restraint and the cast moves deliberately and only when necessary. What is left is a cauldron of beautiful, stirring, disturbing language.
The play, written for radio and aired on the BBC in 1962, offers confessions about having a child from three characters: The Wife, The Secretary, and The Student. Delivered in alternate monologues in free verse, we follow the women through their experiences. Each begins with astute descriptions of her environment and how she fits into it.
I am slow as the world. I am very patient.
Turning through my time, the suns and stars
Regarding me with attention.
The moon's concern is more personal:
She passes and repasses, luminous as a nurse.
Is she sorry for what will happen? I do not think so.
She is simply astonished at fertility.
When I first saw it, the small red seep, I did not believe it.
I watched the men walk about me in the office. They were so flat!
I remember the minute when I knew for sure.
The willows were chilling.
The details build and as the various circumstances of the three women unfold, the language becomes bolder, rising to crescendos of euphoria, anger, and emptiness. The stories of the women are personal, stripped of artifice and boundaries. Unlike most plots, this one does not concern itself with suspense. Instead, the focus is on the range of feelings that go with each woman's experience of childbirth: a successful birth, a miscarriage, and abandonment. The feelings form the arc of the play. The audience, bound in their seats by decorum, listen to these intimate stories of joy and loss.
The cast captures the personal nature of these confessionals while simultaneously serving as bold storytellers. Francis Benhamou plays The Wife, an earth mother. She beautifully reflects the depth of feeling—from painful childbirth to the unconditional love of her miraculous newborn. Angela Church exposes the frustrations of a working women's life in the '60s as The Secretary. She convincingly portrays bitterness and anger at her inability to successfully conceive. As she says, "I am restless. Restless and useless. I, too, create corpses." Kina Bermudez echoes the doubt and tentativeness in her role as The Student. She watches her baby in the hospital nursery. "She is a small island, asleep and peaceful, / And I am a white ship hotting: Goodbye, goodbye." But there are residual feelings: "I am a wound walking out of hospital."
Three Women is not your typical theatre where the characters interact and react to one another. Here, Benhamou, Church, and Bermudez deliver the internal emotional journeys of three archetypal women. But Plath packs a punch in every line. Her stories are familiar, but her way of expressing them seem unbearably personal. The feelings are as raw as exposed nerve endings—all in 45 minutes. This play shows women at their most vulnerable. It reveals in graphic imagery what most women would never discuss outside their most intimate circles.