Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, first published in 1892, is written as a series of journal entries by a woman who has been isolated in a mansion at her husband John’s insistence. This summer-long retreat is supposed to help heal the woman experiencing a “temporary nervous depression”, but alone in a large house with nothing to keep her company except the wallpaper in her bedroom, her condition only worsens. Because Jennifer Summerfield’s one-woman performance, adapted and directed by Josh Hitchens, sticks verbatim to the source material, the real power of the play is derived from Summerfield’s performance.
Germantown’s Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion serves as the colonial mansion of Gilman’s story, and the Maxwell’s space (or lack thereof) creates a startling immediacy to Summerfield’s hour-long monologue. (As an example of how little room there was, the lights had to be readjusted before the show began because an audience member accidentally kicked them over while taking his seat.) Utilizing that intimacy to great effect, Summerfield hardly has to leave her seat to command the room. The stage (really just a chair and end-table) goes dark whenever John approaches because the woman needs to put away her journal, but these brief interruptions don’t halt the momentum that builds over the course of the performance; even as the woman is losing her mind, Summerfield brings her to life.
[Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken Street] April 15-17, 2016; ebenezermaxwellmansion.org