8/11/2022 THE WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE CenterStage North
(Bias Alert: I have worked with CenterStage North and some of the actors in this production. I tend to view their work through approval-tinted glasses.)
Let me get my bias out of the way up front. I am not a huge fan of the plays of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. I usually find them shallow "joke factories," filled with clichéd characters, totally lacking the "Southern Charm" they purport to celebrate.
That being said, back in 2019, I found Stage Door's production of The Savannah Sipping Society an aberration in their "oeuvre,." a female-centric love letter to friendship that was more affectionate than clichéd, more warmly humorous than strain-the-brain not-as-funny-as-it-thinks. The Wild Women of Winedale is in that same vein, and CenterStage North has put together a production that is as welcome as an evening Zinfandel on a breezy porch. A few mosquito-sized nitpicks notwithstanding.
Like The Savannah Sipping Society, this play is structured with a series of monologues dividing the scenes, only in this case, they are delivered by women outside the main group of characters, the “Wild Women,” if you will. Fanny Wild is a museum docent who is mounting an exhibit of videotaped women, women who identify a single event as a “turning point,” the crossroads that changed their lives, most often for the better. While plot-wise, these stories have little to do with the main story, they do provide a leitmotif of empowerment, a recurring reminder of women who have “jumped off the ice floe” before it could crack apart and swallow them.
For you see, the three Wild women (Fanny Wild, her sister Willa Wild, and their sister-in-law Johnnie Fay (“Jef”) Wild) are all women “of a certain age,” struggling to find a path now that their spouses (and the ailing aunt they cared for) are gone, especially now that their jobs are being “cancelled” by the next generation. Their home in Winedale VA (driving distance from Richmond) is cluttered and oppressive, and Fanny’s urge is to “Marie Kondo” the place to the ground.
If I can be honest here, I have a few problems with this script and this production, First and foremost, I have a tendency to scoff at the “less is more” mania that adherents think is the answer to all of life’s ills. I tend to think of clutter AS life – my stuff is an extension of me, an integral part as vital as my bones and blood, perhaps even a prize for an experience-packed life well-lived. Yes, I have had periodic “purges,” particularly books and movies from my libraries, but none of those purges made me feel “saner” or calmer or less-stressed – in truth they all made me feel a little emptier.
Perhaps the whole Marie Kondo thing may be the right choice for some people, but I am definitely NOT one of them, which makes Fanny’s obsession with clearing out all her stuff less than convincing. And when she chose to smash one of her husband’s Hummels and sell the rest to a shooting gallery, I just wanted to scream, “Don’t you realize how valuable those are?” It’s like decluttering your life by burning all those old Rembrandts your ex-husband collected.
And, for the record, the wide set was far FAR too tidy and orderly. It does not synch with how the dialogue and attitudes describe it to us. It needs so much more clutter, more piles-of-junk. Or at least more disorder – all the “stuff” is neatly stored on shelves and in boxes, and in other rooms. As it is now, the change to Act II is negligible and it should be night and day.
My other problem with the script may actually be a backhanded complimented. The transition monologues are so tightly written, the characters so cleverly drawn, that they make the main story seem as trivial and shallow as, well, as a Hope-Jones-Wooten play. The final transition monologue (delivered in a bravura moment by the talented Emily Kalat) is especially memorable, a sadly joyful tale of a life newly dedicated to helping elderly shut-ins, and the surprise that goes along with that. In comparison, the stories of the Wild women are just, well, just not convincing and too-easily resolved.
But these quibbles aside, this production is full of laughs, full of heart, and full of charm. I truly loved the three central performances (Cheryl Baer as Fanny, Kitt Marsh as Will, and Meghann Claar as Jef). And I truly appreciated the skill with which Vicky Posey, Amy Cain, Marge Krengel, Karen Ruetz, Julie Robyn Turner, and the aforementioned Emily Kalat created rich and resounding characters in their too-short monologues, their too-compelling stories.
The Wild Women of Winedale is a pleasant summer treat, a smile-a-second respite from the heat of summer, the strain of inflation, and the aggravation of the news cycle. It is chock-full of marvelous characters, beautifully-realized performances, and women whose stories will resonate.
And they just may inspire you to take a leap off that ice floe. Hopefully, before it melts in this heat.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #csnWWW)