McGaw Saves 'Wallace'

Women and Wallace by Jonathan Mark Sherman directed by Bridger McGaw at the Loeb Experimental Theater November 2-4

The death of a parent is one of the most traumatic events that can in a child's life. It is even more horrific and unjust if suicide is involved. Jonathan Marc Sherman's tragic comedy "Woman and Wallace" examines the emotional fallout resulting from such a catastrophe through the youthful and neurotic sensibility of Wallace Kirkman (Jed Silverstein), a "Jewish boy from Jersey," whom we witness grow from childhood to adulthood in just over an hour and a half.

"Women and Wallace" goes for the theatrical jugular immediately. Minutes into the play we are led into a warm domestic scene: Wallace's mother (Sarah Matthay) calmly prepares a peanut butter and banana sandwich for little Wallace. After he excitedly snatches the lunch and trots off to the second grade, Wallace's mother jots a note and then slits her throat. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that this is the defining moment of Wallace's life. We know early on why his relationships with women will be screwed up and inevitably end in disaster.

What follows the suicide are a series of scenes, mostly unremarkable, which showcase Wallace's attempt at achieving sexual and non-sexual intimacy with women. What at first appears to be an interesting modification of the Oedipal arrangement--where feelings of hatred and jealousy towards the father are subsumed by Wallace's interactions with other women--turns out to be a cliched expression of childhood trauma. Granted, the play is a comic treatment of serious themes, but the fact that all of Wallace's relationships and potential flings are somehow tainted with his mother's blood is too convenient and unconvincing.

Yet, the formidable obstacle posed by the script did not completely hinder director Bridger McGaw '97 respectable show. Well-cast as Wallace, Jed Silverstein gave a seasoned and (at rare moments) touching perfromance. With a mix of stand-up comic swagger and adolescent noxiousness, Silverstein breathed life into Wallace's character and kept him marvelously alive throughout. Becca Lowenhaupt is memorable as the wise, heavily-accented Jewish grandmother, a stereotype people never seem to grow tired of.

The set, composed solely of wooden cubes, a few props and colored screens, effectively evokes a child's world, but loses most of its relevance as Wallace approaches adulthood. However, the haunting presence of silhouetted heads behind the screens functions as the perfect atmosphere for Wallace's monologues. Looking at the silhouettes is like staring into Wallace's mind and seeing the different women that have come into his life: Victoria (Markella Zanni), Sarah (Leah Altman), Lili (Hilary Weissberg) and Nina (Alexandra Marolachakis). They all fuse into one woman, Wallace's dead mother, of course.

Near the end of the play Wallace yells, "All I want to do is change history." After hearing such predictable reactions, all we want to do is cringe. But luckily McGaw's take on this mediocre script is, for the most part, refreshing and lively, allowing us to forget (or at least look past) this weakness.


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