"Reality is a nebulous commodity" Sylvia Plath
Dear Sylvia: I don't know how to talk to the dead, but I know how you talked to the living. Even now, years after you did yourself in, February 11th, 1963, your poems still cling to me. I've always been a stickler for your work. Sure, there are other poets; touchingly gentle ones, the lyrical climbers of words, and the armed posse of wordsmiths who resonate with the earth. All of them attracted me when I was young, and they still do. I learned how to capture the voices of poets by practicing their poems out loud, to test my voice. I'd go down to the library, gather the poets together, turn their book bound spines down, and fish for revelations. Reading their words in the bright light of a cozy library was a good thing. Afterwards I'd go outside to a private space, and mouth their words with everything I had, testing myself. But it was your story, and your suicide, that got to me.
You were 30 years old when you died, Sylvia, after three suicide attempts and 400 poems. Your head in a gas oven, rags in the window sills, the deadly fumes, it shocked me. Now that your son, Nicholas, has taken his life, I'm troubled all over again. Who knows what your son was thinking, when he chose to do away with himself? When people give up, it's a bruise on the living. A bruise that leaves a lasting impression. I know. My brother took his life with a gun.
Recently I attended a performance of EDGE at the Method Machine, a small theater inside a church, with a seating arrangement of pews, in the Neighborhood of the Arts, Rochester, New York. Marcy J. Savastano portrayed you well. She worked her way through a monologue, on the last day of your life, like she was writing a fin-de-siècle diary pitched in the dark – a tough assignment. From what I understand, the playwright, Paul Alexander, pulled it off in 4 hours of intense writing concentration. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do that. And it takes a lot of chutzpah for a performer to walk through the paces on the last day of your life, as if her life depended on it. If you don't mind a touch of humor, Sylvia, there is no way you can be silent. Your words still have power. From the notes in your diary, and the playwright's heated address to you, EDGE largely succeeded.
The monologue is kept together by your efforts to make peace with yourself. It is a dark prayer, an agitated, angry one, not for life, but for an excoriating moment to work up your courage and kill yourself. EDGE, at its best, felt like a necessity, whether we like it or not, working for the truth like the brushing of dark leaves in the wind. The monologue given to you, Sylvia, had the potential of conjugating one psychic event to the next, with silences as revealing as the spoken word. But silence didn't happen often, and when it did, it felt put upon. The staging did not always allow us to get close to you. Intimacy is a tool on stage that reveals a character's state of mind best when it has the same inevitability as the suicide portrayed. Crisis, when it is straight forward, with clearly recognized intentions and intimacy, lived through experiences, makes believability work.
In the opening moments, Savastano repetitively paraded back and forth parallel to the audience, a signal of her distress. Such a moment needs to do more than push its way to gain our attention. Savastano had the particulars down well enough, especially in the second act, when she deepened the stress with insight and well executed timing. Yet if its going to be a portrayal of your life, Sylvia, done with respect, intimate detail, and deepening pain, it works best when it doesn't call attention to itself. It must be burdened with the invariable and inevitable truth felt at the end of the play. You're gone, we know it, and we now know why. Sylvia, after all is said and done, the performer walks off the stage to applause, and you remain dead in your grave.
Brenden Behan once said, in song, in his play, The Hostage, that we should not throw stones at our mothers, but throw stones at our fathers instead. EDGE threw a harsh light on your relationship with your father, and also, especially with the English poet, Ted Hughes; your lover and husband. Ted was "pure sex", you said, "violent and out of control". He "betrayed" you, beat you with a belt, and later divorced you. It weighed heavily on your sense of self worth, filled you with pain, challenged your will, and for whatever reason, you never gave up on him. Apparently, Sylvia, you were always fierce and honest, about your love and your poems. Now Ted Hughes promotes your collected works. For whatever its worth, only he knows why. And only he can live with it. But that's another story altogether.
The Method Machine in Rochester, under David Henderson's direction, has added a fresh, necessary theatre outlet for vital theatre experiences that go beyond the cut and dry, copycat, upscale productions from elsewhere. Henderson calls The Method Machine "an artistic playground committed to producing and presenting daring and illuminating experiments in performance". Today, where even the best and brightest are caught between the living and dead, EDGE fulfilled that promise.
"And I slept on, like a bent finger." Sylvia Plath, Love Letter, 1960