Letter from First Rehearsal: Wives
By Margot Bordelon, Director
There’s so much rich material in this 90-minute-four-act play that I’ve struggled with how to start. Do I talk about my first collaboration with Jaclyn five years ago when we worked together on a site-specific promenade piece — in which Jaclyn both wrote and starred? Or do I go into my college obsession with Ernest Hemingway, and how I devoured his books, but now wish that my obsession had been with Martha Gellhorn — his ferocious third wife — who was a much more accomplished journalist than her famous husband? Or do I talk about my experience of rereading A Room of One’s Own this summer, and discovering that many of Virginia Woolf’s ideas about class, and gender, and who is allowed to create art still feel revolutionary — even though it was written nearly one hundred years ago.
I think I need to begin with the most personal.
“Everything about you is right.” For me, this is one of the play’s most powerful proposals. Because when I actually take time to consider this idea, to metabolize these words, I feel my heart catch in my throat. Because as strong and feminist and independent as I consider myself, this phrase still feels like a radical notion. I’m a woman living in New York City in 2019, and yet I’m constantly berating myself over what I need to be doing better. And I know I’m not alone. As women, we’re endlessly bombarded with everything about us that is not right — the way we look, speak, love, parent, choose to lead, the choices we make about our bodies. We’re expected to be kind, accommodating, deferential, to swallow our anger — we’re being systematically gaslit to the point that it feels impossible to consider who we may be outside of our conditioning. Who we could be if we were truly allowed to be ourselves?
“All the while, they wonder what roles are they defined by? Will they ever transcend them? And how good does it feel when a tyrannical force (external/internal) fucking dies?”
Through poetry, humor, theatricality, and style, Wives dissects these questions. The play bounds and twists through time, and as it does so, Jaclyn takes on a challenge laid out in A Room of One’s Own. While reading Antony and Cleopatra, Woolf examines the relationship between Cleopatra and Octavia — Antony’s wife. Woolf notes that their connection is simply a rivalry over a man. “How interesting it would have been,” she writes, “if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends.”
“The patriarchy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but in partnership with white supremacy.”
In Wives, our complex female characters subvert these traditions, moving from rivals to friends to family. But Jaclyn’s project goes further — the play explores the fact that the patriarchy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but in partnership with white supremacy. These two forms of oppression reinforce one another, marginalizing most women of color. In Act 4, the heroine finds herself unmoored in a historically white, historically male institution. And it’s by both examining her womanhood and gaining knowledge of her ancestral past that she is able to explode her sense of self — and, by doing so, invent wondrous new language.
“We’re living in an era where we continue to thwart our own progress by silencing a massive percentage of our population.”
Some of the questions that resonate most deeply with me in Wives are: how can we make way for inclusive new structures and new ways of being? What might the world look like if women and people of color were truly allowed equality? If histories were kept intact? If groups of people ceased to be marginalized? The possibilities of who we could become as a species are boundless. We’re living in an era where we continue to thwart our own progress by silencing a massive percentage of our population. Or, in other words, as Beyoncé says, and as Jaclyn quotes on the first page, “when you hurt me / you hurt yourself / try not to hurt yourself.”
In these divisive times, I must believe and fight for progress as if it is inevitable.