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|A CurtainUp Review
A Room Of One's Own
By Barbara K. Mehlman
Several years ago, I saw A Room of One's Own performed by Eileen Atkins at the Lamb's Theatre in New York, and was enthralled. First by the exquisite surroundings of their upstairs performance space, with dark wooden paneling, plush seats, and a shallow stage that brought the inspired Ms. Atkins right up to the audience. And then by Virginia Woolf's exquisite writing and profound thinking.
So it was with both eager anticipation, and mild intrepidation, that I climbed the stairs of The Salon, a makeshift theatre one floor below a noisy lighting supply company, to hear this wonderful script performed again. And despite the rolling carts that often sounded like thunder over my head, I was not the least bit disappointed.
A Room of One's Own is a one-woman play adapted by Patrick Garland for the stage from Virginia Woolf's essay of the same name. This essay, published in 1929, was an expansion of two papers which Ms. Woolf read at Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, in 1928. The foundation upon which both these papers rest is Ms. Woolf's contention that "a woman must have money, and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Speaking to a room of young women, Ms. Woolf talks to them about the place of women in society, the fact that men are educated and women ignorant, men are prosperous and women poor.
Woolf points out that while women "shine like beacons" in fiction written by men, in actuality, and citing the great historian Trevelyan, women were slaves, often locked up, not free to choose a mate, and frequently beaten by their husbands. How can a woman write fiction, Woolf wonders, when she lives in these conditions. And yet women did write, though her writings either remained unpublished, or were published under a male pseudonym. Anonymous, Woolf surmises, was probably a woman.
Tod Randolph, the lovely actress who presents this two-hour lecture, is well-suited to the role. She has a strong, authoritative voice and a proper Victorian bearing. Under Daniela Varon's thoughtful direction, Woolf/Randolph gives these papers partly as musings, her disembodied voice recorded and played for the audience, and partly as lecturer, advising women with great conviction and passion.
The set, not as lavish as the one at the Lamb's, is warm and minimal, with a dark wood desk, Oriental rug, a mantle with plaster busts, and a picture of the College's founder. The lighting gives the whole set a golden glow that helps you forget you're sitting on metal folding chairs with a barely padded seat.
Virginia Woolf penned this essay more than 70 years ago, and of course, the words were both shocking and revolutionary then. But do they still have a place in the consciousness of today's modern women? For this writer, A Room of One's Own is timeless, to be repeated over and over, through all the ages to come, until every woman who wants one, has a room of her own that isn't the kitchen -- for here I write, in my own five-room apartment, bringing in my own money, and fully convinced that should I ever co-habit with a man, I shall have, not a room, but a wing, of my own.
Editor's Note: The production will return this summer to Shakespeare & Company -- a reprise of prior successful engagements.