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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Wish I Had A Sylvia Plath
Opening in the kitchen where Plath killed herself by sticking her head in the gas oven, the 75-minute one-woman play is an astute blend of humor and rage. Amy Davidson plays Esther Greenwood, the name given to the leading character in Plath's autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. It's implied through her admiring first line that this is Esther's kitchen, not Sylvia's. She crawls out of the oven, looks around in a satisfied way and timidly begins her monologue. The dreamlike quality of the piece is enhanced by its cooking show clips which give Esther a chance to let off steam by substituting a vile mélange of evil deeds for the conventional recipes delivered with the conventional smiling face of the 1950s.
By calling Sylvia Esther, Anthony implies her character is hiding behind the mask of fiction. As the play begins, Esther is proper, hardly the girl we know from the bleak poems. It's disappointing, a let-down — especially from a brunette. The Sylvia character seeps through when the actress suddenly grabs a pen and dashes to her notebook to write down a flash of insight or a sudden thought.
Although she's alone on stage, Davidson is not the only character. Video designer Adam Flemming has done an amazing job of etching videos on the walls of the small set that depict Esther's father, mother, husband, husband's lover and children. Esther does all the talking, though we see the characters' lips move.
There's "Daddy" who we know from the Plath poem, "Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I'm through" in which she compares herself to a Jew ("I may be a bit of a Jew") and her father an oppressor. Daddy is lying in bed gasping in an accent. Mother is pretty, soft-spoken in a domineering way. Even in her dream world, Esther/Sylvia doesn't dare oppose Mother.
And then there is the husband who's sick to death of Esther's illness and posturing, to say nothing of caring for two babies. Ironically, in real life, Hughes wrote a brilliant volume Birthday Poems, that covered the vast confusion and remorse he felt for his wife. It was published the year he died.
No one comes off too well, presumably because everyone is l seen through Sylvia's eyes. The most sympathetic is the talking oven which screeches and is translated by Esther. It adds to the heightened sense of unreality, the lull between life and after-life.
Davidson, in a full-skirted red dress, can best be thought of as an after-life projection. She doesn't look like Plath, (which doesn't matter) or have the sense of suffering. The piece, directed by Matthew McCray, has pace and holds the audience to the final scene when Esther coyly dances as if it were all a game. The end, when her rage builds and finally explodes satisfyingly gets us where we were headed all the time.