Last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts I went to see the Calgary-based theatre collective One Yellow Rabbit perform one of their latest shows “Sylvia Plath Must Not Die”. I was drawn to the piece simply because my graduate performance thesis project was about Sylvia Plath. It was lovely to have a thorough understanding of the material that was unraveling onstage, but that is by no means a requirement for enjoying the richness of the words and the characters brought to life on stage. The piece, despite its title, was actually about both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. This was a very pleasant surprise! Both Onalea Gilbertson as Plath and Denise Clarke as Sexton gave very powerful performances, inhabiting the essence of the poets in both voice and body.
The majority of the text was Plath and Sexton’s poetry, but there were also some key biographical facts woven into the dialogue. Ted Hughes and Kayo Sexton (played by Michael Green and Andy Curtis) also added an interesting element to the two women’s lives unfolding (and unraveling) on stage. It allowed the audience to jump from the reality of these women’s lives to the truth that was released through their poetry. As the show took you through certain important turning points in their lives, the key moments were marked with their poems. The construction of the piece was very thoughtful because not only did both Plath and Sexton have powerful dramatic arcs in their performances, but the audience was able to weave interesting links (thematically and through parallel choice of words in their poems like ‘panzer man’, for example) between the two women because of the construction of the piece and the placement of the poems. Plath and Sexton’s connection to each other – acknowledged at times or parallel without being aware of each other at others – created effective tension and allowed the audience to feel the painful isolation of both women in their respective worlds. The show builds to a parallel fight – physical for Sexton and verbal for Plath – between the women and their husbands. The choice to have music played loudly (so you couldn’t hear the shouts) was very powerful.
I found myself wishing I could have been a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process or even have had the opportunity to see the various workshop performances of the piece to watch it evolve into what it is today. Regardless, the show gives its audience a beautiful glimpse into the world of these two female icons, without imposing judgement. Their words are again given life, and that’s what they both lived (and died) for.
The show is playing until Saturday, December 13th and the link to the company’s website is http://www.oyr.org/index.html