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Essay

From the Artistic Director: Wives

By Tim Sanford, Artistic Director
July 2, 2019

“The perfect Savior said: ‘Son of Man consented with Sophia, his consort, and revealed a great androgynous light. His male name is designated Savior, Begetter of All Things. His female name is designated All-Begettress Sophia. Some call her Faith.’”

The Sophia of Jesus Christ

“There it was — her picture. Yes with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? She asked herself, taking up her brush again…. It was done; it was finished. Yes she thought, …I have had my vision.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

 

Those of you who enjoyed our redux production of Jaclyn Backhaus’s raucous, amiably subversive Men On Boats a few years ago, will undoubtedly be overjoyed to learn that Jaclyn has completed the commission we offered her at that time, and the resulting play, Wives, will kick off our 2019-2020 season. Men On Boats looked at a decidedly manly subject — an exploratory expedition led by John Wesley Powell to chart the course of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon — from the perspective of an exuberantly contemporary, ungendered, racially blind lens. If you surmised that its main intent was to take down the patriarchy, I think you would be overstating its subtext. What made the play and production so irresistible was the way its spirited cast eagerly elbowed their way into the swaggering tone of its genre, along with the headlong embrace of its inventive, minimalist theatricality.

“She seeks a world of language where anything is possible, but nothing is yet invented.”

You will find plenty of parallels between Men On Boats and Wives, most conspicuously in its jaunty treatment of historical settings. Wives, however, visits four different time periods that Jaclyn links thematically. The satiric edge of the play and its politics are a touch more forward, but tonally, the play never sits still. The accumulation of upended expectations leads us to a beautiful final scene where new forms and unbridled expressiveness are encouraged and not judged in comparison to existing models. She seeks a world of language where anything is possible, but nothing is yet invented.

We know from the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls that there was a time in early Christian history when apocryphal Gnostic scriptures that contemplated the dual masculine and feminine nature of God circulated, a time in which women sometimes played apostolic and pastoral roles in the church. Eventually, the patriarchy shut that down and reasserted its hegemony over dogma in the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD: another example of “History is written by the victors.” But hey, maybe history isn’t static. Maybe there are adventurers, wives, and poets who can forge on the smithy of their imaginations a new inclusive history and canon and restore God to Her rightful place in heaven and on earth.