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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Second Mrs. Wilson
Apparently Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was the right person in the right place to see that her suddenly handicapped husband would continue as commander-in-chief with her support. Perhaps more importantly, she steadfastly guarded his privacy as well as his office from unwanted visitors. Call it interpretive political history, The Second Mrs. Wilson is by the prolific, award-winning Joe DiPietro.
This production follows its world premiere engagement this past Spring at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. It includes some members of that cast. Without going overboard in my enthusiasm and that of the opening night audience, I can say that it is an engrossing, partially revelatory, politically infused play. It is set mostly within the White House in what appears to be a huge reception and billiard room. The stunning set by Alexander Dodge includes a partial view of the Capitol. The set also serves a number of other locations.
The action, much of it melodramatically inclined, focuses on the closely knit relationship/marriage between the widow Edith and Woodrow that began only a year after the death of his first wife Ellen about whom the play addresses in passing: A few choice remarks about how she was the preferred First Lady, if only for two years. Act I is mainly divided by the political tension between the President and Congress and his aggressive romancing of Edith. In Act II, Edith creates the tension with Congress by serving steadfastly as the President?s voice.
Keeping the President safe from the press and from nosy, intrusive politicos is a full time job. Aided by a physician to withhold the seriousness of his condition, Virginia-born Edith (Laila Robins) quickly and not too quietly is seen es an unshakable defensive force to be reckoned with. Often as not making enemies along the way (referred to as "a parasite in a petticoat"), she engagingly uses her brittle wit as she presents herself as a contrast to Woodrow's public image of being an "egghead" as well as grim and humorless.With the help of DiPietro's pithy script we see him as she does, very different than the public's impression of him. as a solid defensive force to be reckoned with. Often as not making enemies along the way ( Is she a parasite in a petticoat?), she engagingly uses her brittle wit as she presents herself as a contrast to Woodrow?s public image of being an "egghead" as well as grim and humorless. With the help of DiPietro's pithy script we see him as she does, very different than the the public's impression of him.
A terrific John Glover is Woodrow. A religious, contentious and uncompromising character prone to sudden outbursts of temper, Woodrow is also seen as a fan of limericks, some of his own making. His gift for light-hearted romancing and singing brings a levity to the more intense concerns of the play.
Under Gordon Edelstein's firm direction the cast nicely evokes the era without any of them being archly anachronistic. Costume designer Linda Cho has created some exceptionally beautiful dresses for Robins who is extraordinarily winning as Edith. She not only exudes charm but also creates a memorable image of a devoted, impassioned woman with savvy and esprit to spare.
I suspect you will enjoy best Glover's Woodrow as a middle-aged romantic and an even more passionate advocate for peace in the world. Excellent performances from Stephen Spinella as the duplicitous Colonel House, Stephen Barker Turner as Dr. Grayson, Michael McGrath as the good-for-a-laugh Secretary Joe Tumulty, Sherman Howard, as the arrogantly self-serving Lodge, and Richmond Hoxie, as the lame (in both senses of the word) Vice-President Thomas Marshall.
The splendid lighting design by Ben Stanton casts an unpretentious glow on one of the grandest pretensions the White House ever pulled off. It may not all be history, as we really dont know what was said back then, but what DiPietro has them say is clever' and craftily designed to make us think a little more about a certain independent woman in the White House as well as that formidable man behind her. This is certainly the best play about a President and his First Lady since Sunrise at Campobello
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