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A CurtainUp Review

Edge Gets Get Another Life in Los Angeles

Editor's Note: Since Les Gutman reviewed this solo play and Angela Torn's performance as poet Sylvia Plath, Edge has taken on a life of its own. It was revived Off-Broadway last season and extended numerous times. Now, it's gone West, with Ms. Torn still playing Plath, and Laura Hitcock has added her observations./div>

He's the most self-centered man I have ever met. — Sylvia Plath about her husband Ted Hughes.

It takes one to know one and, even though Paul Alexander's one-woman play about the late poet Sylvia Plath takes place on the day of her suicide at age 30, the monologues, erupting from Alexander's Plath biography Rough Magic, depict a woman who, for many reasons, never got very far out of her own psyche. Some might say it's the artist's curse.

Angelica Torn, who asked Alexander to write the piece, gives a vivid and mesmerizing performance at The Odyssey Theatre. It's augmented by William St. John's lighting design.

"I have experienced love, sorrow, madness, and if I cannot make these experiences meaningful, no new experience will help me." Plath wrote in her journals which, in the interests of full disclosure, were edited by her literary legatee, said husband Ted Hughes. You won't find this reflective tone in Alexander's play. Instead it uses the rage expressed in her poems to dramatic effect. Under Alexander's direction, Torn ranges from surprisingly sardonic and sexy to devastatingly touching in her scenes with a female psychiatrist.

After a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt in her college years, Plath was committed to mental institutions, endured shock therapy and finally a long session of psychoanalyis. Here she displays a childlike fear and bewilderment— a completely different character beneath the shell the rebel grew to present the persona of perfection demanded by her mother and her era.

The pretty blonde, whose authoritarian father died when she was eight, got a scholarship to Smith and served on Mademoiselle Magazine's College Board in 1953. Her brush with the crème de la crème of young American womanhood was undoubtedly instrumental in bringing out the destructive results of 1950s perfectionism which made young women Stepford wives. Things weren't much better at Cambridge where she fell hard for tall, dark and handsome poet Ted Hughes and married him four months later.

Alexander's portrait of Hughes, seen through Plath's eyes, has few redeeming qualities. Plath calls his poems boring and flips to a conventional persona of Betrayed Housewife over his infidelities. Hughes, who lost a second wife to suicide, went on to become Poet Laureate of England and this is not the place to analyze him as man or artist.

Alexander's purpose is to let Plath spew forth the story of her life on the day of her death from the viewpoint of her afterlife. He covers it thoroughly, from Plath's yearning for the love of her handsome distant father to that of her handsome distant husband. Seven years and two children later, she compares them in one of her most memorable poems, "Daddy." "If I've killed one man, I've killed two—The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know, Daddy, you can lie back now. There's a stake in your fat black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you. Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I'm through! "

Although the death of her marriage may have been one of many contributing factors to her suicide, how sad that she couldn't have found the strength to get through it. In a way, she did, leaving a legacy of poems that trumped most of her contemporaries.

Whether Alexander and Torn's Sylvia is the real Plath, Edge works dramatically as an inspiration of her poetry and has a place in her historic and aritistic legacy.

Below the California production details, followed by Les Gutman's review of the 2003 Off-Broadway performance.

Playwright/Director: Paul Alexander
Cast: Angelica Torn (Sylvia Plath)
Set & Lighting Design: William St. John
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: January 5-March 2, 2008
Where: The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, Reservations: (310) 477-2055
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 5.

—original review by Les Gutman by Les Gutman

Failure felt very much like success.
---Sylvia Plath, via Paul Alexander

Angelica Torn
A. Torn
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
There are many ways to judge the success of literary biography presented onstage. As I exited Edge, which is the self-told story of Sylvia Plath (Angelica Torn), set on the day on which she finally succeeded in killing herself, a fellow audience member turned to his companion and said, "Can we stop by the bookstore? I want to buy some of Sylvia Plath's poems." I suppose that's as good as any.

Edge is not a show devoted to Plath's poetry. Indeed, other than a brief snippet of the poem she wrote on the occasion of her son's birth ("Love set you going like a fat gold watch...."), I don't recall a single line of verse. Instead, it is a play about the woman: her relationships with her parents and her husband, Ted Hughes; her putative failures; her psychiatric encounters; and, perhaps most of all, her rage. This makes sense: although a fastidious and prolific poet throughout the period on which she reflects, Plath's recognition arrived posthumously. What did she want to be, her psychiatrist asked after her failed suicide attempt that prompted her only novel, The Bell Jar. An artist, she replied. She felt she drew well.

Ms. Torn inhabits her character masterfully, revealing an enormous range of emotions. At times, she speaks so rapidly one imagines she can't get her thoughts out of her mouth fast enough; at others, she speaks with precision, suggesting she is searching for answers she doesn't have. Anger recurs, expressing itself in outbursts, but just as often in calculated vengeance or an almost casually sardonic humor. Glimpses of other feelings -- love, lust, jealousy and a childlike sense of frustration among them -- flesh out Plath's interior conflicts.

Paul Alexander wrote the play expressly for Ms. Torn. He is also the author of Rough Magic, a major Plath biography. His writing here is clear, informative and a good deal funnier than one might expect. (He also directs.) His skillful weaving of frequently ironic arcs in Ms. Plath's life bespeaks his immersion in his subject. Between playwright and performer, it hard not to be infused with enthusiasm as well.

Edge is performed on a practically empty stage -- just a chair and side table. Plath's environment is established by extensive and excellent light and sound design.

One final note: Plath spits plenty of venom in a lot of directions, but her most toxic comments are reserved for the "cow" for whom Ted Hughes left her. Her name as Assia Gutman (Wevill), and the way Torn pronounces it, you can't help but hate her. It's always nice to hear my family name trashed so expertly.

Written and directed by Paul Alexander
with Angelica Torn
Costume Design: Gabrielle Hammil
Lighting Design: Joe Levasseur
Sound Design: Dennis Keefe
Running time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street (Union Square East/Irving Place)
Telephone: (212) 239-6200
MON - SAT @8, SAT @3; $40
Opening July 21, 2003, closing September 20, 2003 -- and back for another run in 2007.
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 7/17/03 performance

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The Playbill Broadway YearBook

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