Wife is Ella Duffy’s one-woman monologue that follows wives through history, art and legend. The text is based on her mother, Carol Ann Duffy’s book of poems, “The World’s Wife”. This production explores the female experience through time, and feels like a verbal theme and variations so often used in musical composition. The theme is that all these marvelous women have been masked and overlooked by the accomplishments of their husbands. Each incident reminds us that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” (William Ross Wallace ). Every little girl has had this maxim drilled into her from childhood to bolster her ego and encourage her to fight for her rights. “Behind every great man, is a woman,” said athlete Meryll Frost and his words have been repeated and pounded into us ever since.
Ella Duffy repeats this mantra in 23 vignettes depicting the wives we never really understood of men we all know about. The stage is a visual portrait of women’s work: a laundry line of women’s dresses, a sheet and underwear with Duffy preparing food, slicing vegetables between monologues. A loose-leaf-notebook is on the table and Duffy turns the page to announce each section beginning with The Devil’s Wife, (which recurs twice more) where she enacts a violent reaction to an attack presumably by the devil. She is being abused, perhaps raped and so the mood is set.
We hear Eleanor Roosevelt reminding us that universal human rights are in the small places where every man, woman and child seek equality and we hear once again her famous quote: ”Women are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”
We meet Frau Freud who puts the sliced carrots into a pot as she says, “I’ve seen my share of ding-a-ling,” and reminds us that “the average penis is not pretty.” Anne Hathaway takes the sheet off the line and tells us “The bed we loved in was a spinning world.” We meet the single girl, a lonely, unfulfilled human being who cries as she chug-a-lugs a bottle of wine.
There is a bit of a comedic break from these ninety minutes of unremitting portraits of female abuse with Mrs. Constance Wilde quoting her husband: “Women are made to be loved, not understood,” who retaliates with, ”Yes, Oscar, I was only a woman but I was looking at the stars.”
The Devils Wife returns to remind us she was left to rot and so it goes with one horror story after another through history. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst tells us she was glad to stand up for what she believed in and Mrs. Darwin tells her husband, “Something about that chimpanzee reminds me of you.”
Salome reminds us that the story of her life is waking up with a stranger’s head on the pillow beside her and The Kray Twins’ wives insist London was safer because of their husbands, English gangsters who were the foremost perpetrators of organized crime in London’s East End in the fifties and sixties. Nancy Sinatra defends her husband as she says all that womanizing he did was just an act. “I want to look in those blue eyes and hear him say “I love you, Nancy Sinatra,” she tells us as the music surges and we hear her husband sing “I can’t take my eyes off of you” presumably to someone else. We meet Monica Lewinsky who explains, ”I found myself alone with him and I was very nervous but I blurted out, “I have a crush on you…..and he, all of a sudden felt very real and very human” …but when President Clinton (defending himself at his impeachment proceedings), accused her of being a stalker, she fell out of love with him. And who can blame her, after all?
Duffy becomes each of her characters, changing her accent and her very persona with each woman she represents. She captivates us with her varied portrayal of a parade of women who have been misused and misrepresented. Robbie Taylor Hunt’s direction is excellent and there is enough variety in the lighting, the sound effects and Duffy’s movements across the stage to create interest even though each story is only a variation on the main theme that men are disgusting brutes.
Teresias the blind prophet of Apollo was transformed into a woman for seven years. His wife tells us her husband was only telling women he knew how they felt. Mrs. Abigail Adams reminds us that we should always remember the ladies and indeed WIFE not only will not let us forget them, it tells us that to ignore them is to erase the very underpinnings of civilization itself.
Cathy Young in The Washington Post says male bashing has become almost a cliché. She points out that feminists love to state male faults as sweeping condemnations and yet, she continues, ”Meanwhile, similar indictments of women would be considered grossly misogynistic.”
Indeed, this production feels very antagonistic and almost violent in its representation of what men have done to women throughout history. The play ends with Mrs. Beast telling us that what we want to do is find ourselves a beast. The sex is better.
WIFE is an interesting piece of theatre beautifully presented by Ella Duffy. The text is controversial and takes male bashing to the very level that infuriates anti-feminists and women who are not militant about women’s status in society. After all not all men are horrid and all women are not their victims. That said, reducing issues to black and white is often what we need to correct a wrong. There is no doubt that women are the lesser sex in the greater picture. Wife is not gentle with the husbands of this world and perhaps we all need to hear how unjust preconceived notions really are before we can moderate them.