By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
Coho’s latest production is an adaptation of a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The main character, also named Charlotte (Grace Carter), suffers from post-partum depression, and her husband John takes her to a creepy mansion in the country to recover. Her husband is also her doctor, which doesn’t work out so well because of the conflict of interest and at this point in Western medicine her condition is described as “nerves” or “hysteria”. He isolates her in her room most of the day, a room covered with yellow wallpaper that Charlotte finds repellant and forbids her from reading or talking to others. While it’s clear that her condition isn’t imagined her treatment sends her further and further into herself, eventually a woman only she can see appears in the wallpaper.
With a minimalist set, the production is largely based on projections. This allows the titular wallpaper to bend and sway as her mental state deteriorates, but there were a few technical difficulties, and the wallpaper disappeared for a portion of the show.
I found the show a bit uneven, the first few scenes establishing John and Charlotte’s relationship felt a bit tedious and unnecessary. The play doesn’t get going till they arrive at the creepy mansion. The characters do a lot of talking considering the sequestered setting but it was most often in scenes of silence that the anguish of the characters felt most palpable. One of the most powerful scenes is when Charlotte’s sister-in-law washes her hair for her because Charlotte has become unable to take care of herself. Carter is captivating as Charlotte; the role becomes increasingly physical as the character descends into madness. The show does end on a strong note, though, packing an immense visual and emotional punch.
Postpartum depression and the pathologizing of women’s behavior are strong themes in the piece. From a modern perspective, it’s easy to look at the setting of the show and see how misguided John’s attempts to cure his wife are. But Gilman’s work is still relevant today, as the conversations around these subjects still has a long way to go.
The Yellow Wallpaper is at CoHo Productions through February 6.