The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was first published in 1892 and has lived on in college syllabi ever since. It’s an important piece of literature as it explores women’s physical and mental health, and it is one of the go-to pieces many people think of when it comes to feminist literature. And now Out Loud Theatre has taken this piece and turned it into a fully immersive evening of theater. There’s a catch, however; the show is in four parts performed on different nights, with audience members attending each night for their “time with the woman.” The parts, titled “Ritual,” “Light,” “Color” and “Escape,” feature a different woman each night; Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley, Ottavia De-Luca, Sarah Leach and Erika Rethorn, respectively. On the nights they are not playing the role of the woman, they are transformed into the visions the woman sees as she is locked away in the room.
I saw “Light” and couldn’t help but be impressed that the show begins right away in the lobby. Once you step off the elevator, a production crew member, donned in hospital scrubs, meets you to ask if you have a reservation with the woman. You then wait in a room, which is the only nod to the Victorian-era from which the original emerged. From there you are ushered into a room for “your time with the woman.” It’s difficult to explain what happened in the room, and that isn’t an insult. The piece is so open to interpretation it reminded me why I felt the drive to participate in theater in the first place. It is theatrical, it is a movement piece, it is a piece of art that will stay with you. As someone who has read the story in recent years (and had to analyze it for a class), the story was fresh in my mind. The story is written in first person and we learn that the narrator is in this yellow room, not exerting herself because she has “a slight hysterical tendency” and the rest will “cure” her. I took a friend with me who knew nothing about the story, and had a vastly different interpretation than I did, which lead to a lengthy discussion about the piece. And isn’t that the point? The theatrical experience shouldn’t end with the curtain, or in this case the elevator. It should spill out into the streets where you talk about it and dissect parts of it. It should stay with you the next day, and hopefully in the days following.
This is a show where you will not walk out of the theater knowing all the answers, you will walk out with questions, and you will walk out in awe. It is not for everyone. If you are looking for a strict theatrical adaptation of this short story, this may not be for you. If you need to spend over an hour at the theater, this may not be for you. If you want to be challenged, if you want to try something different, if you want to have lengthy discussions after a night of theater, than this is the show for you. Kira Hawkridge has done something unique with this adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper.
The Yellow Wallpaper runs through July 9, at 134 Mathewson Street in downtown Providence. All Access Passes or single viewings can be purchased. Out Loud does have an option to buy another night if you see one installment and want more. Tickets can be purchased on their website at outloudtheatre.org