New York International Fringe Presents Plath

Grease's Cultures Smashes Up Against Poet

By: - Aug 27, 2015

Book and Lyrics, Molly Rose Heller
Music, Fernanda Douglas
Director, Emily Feinstein
Theatre at 14th Street
New York International Fringe Festival
Through August 29, 2015

Sylvia Plath's life has the tragedy of opera built-in.  A beautiful, excessively talented young woman simply cannot live with the pain of perfectionist demands.  

Paul Alexander did a wonderful one-actor dramatization of Plath's life a little over a decade ago.  He took the life from start to finish.  This take by Molly Rose Heller focuses on the Smith years and a serious suicide attempt which landed Plath at first in a public mental institution and then in Harvard's McLean Hospital.  

While she was at McLean's Plath wrote about her talks with a psychiatrist.  In the musical, this conversation brackets the show.

Central characters of Plath's mother, granny and brother Warren each reach out to Plath and also form part of a Greek chorus that recite Plath's poems and journal writings either with her or in cacaphonous contrast.

One of the most successful scenes is in a dorm at Smith, where the Grease-like culture of the day erupts in sharp contrast to Plath's sensitive angst.  

While it is suggested here that an overabundance of words rattling in Plath's head is the cause of her problems, focus on her relationship with her exacting father, a Professor of Biology at Boston College and then a repetition of this relationship with her husband, poet Ted Hughes, is a richer vein to mine.  

Plath lived in the Donna Reed world where women cleaned house, gave the kids after school snacks, prepared their dinner and then greeted their returning husband in pumps and a skirt.  For Hughes she assumed this role and it killed her.  Hughes' dark demands on his wife fascinated her, but also hurt her.  Material for Darren Aronofsky perhaps, and not this rather sweet take.  

The music is lovely.  Jenny Vallancourt as Sylvia warmed through the production.  Alison Lea Binder in multiple roles stood out with sass and bizazz.  

As a work in progess, Plath is intriguing.  Cultural contrasts between the subject and her world could be profitably heightened.