Windsor Feminist Theatre has announced the staging of a revered piece of feminist literature, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as its heralding performance of the 2024 season. Opening on January 19 at The Shadowbox Theatre, the play delves into the timeless struggle of a woman grappling with the constraints imposed on her autonomy.
The story, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a seminal feminist short story told through journal entries of a woman confined to a rest cure for her “nervous condition.” Increasingly isolated, she becomes obsessed with the wallpaper’s pattern in the room where she’s kept, ultimately spiraling into delusion. Believing she sees women trapped within the wallpaper, she descends into madness, tearing down the paper to free them, symbolically challenging the oppressive constraints of her life and the broader societal treatment of women’s autonomy and mental health.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” has been adapted into several films over the years. The story is a classic of feminist literature and has inspired filmmakers to bring it to the screen. One well-known adaptation, released in 2011, was directed by Logan Thomas and stars Aric Cushing and Juliet Landau. It has also seen various stage adaptations since the story’s initial publication in 1892, with the first known play adaptation emerging in 1973, and numerous others following in the decades since.
Rebecca S. Mickle, the play’s director, speaks fervently about her connection to the story, which she first encountered in high school. “It was gripping and haunting and powerful and It was the piece of literature that got me into feminist literature,” she says. “At its core, The Yellow Wallpaper is a story about a woman who has had her bodily autonomy taken from her by the men in her life. They aren’t listening to her when she tells them how she is feeling and what she believes is best for her own health.”
Mickle’s depiction of the narrator’s plight resonates with the audience in a time when women still keenly feel the urgency to have their voices heard and their rights respected within medical spheres. She makes the chilling comparison to the present, stating that “even today we see women’s medical rights being taken from them and women being dismissed at doctor’s appointments or not taken seriously by physicians.”
The chosen play aligns seamlessly with WFT’s mission of shining a light on women’s experiences through the years. Mickle explains, “This isn’t just the story of one woman, this is so many women’s stories.” There’s an intention to echo the silences and struggles, historically overlooked, making them impossible to ignore in today’s discourse.
Set to fascinate a wide array of viewers, “The Yellow Wallpaper” targets not only students familiar with the story from their English courses but also women of all ages who share similar experiences of being undermined in medical settings. The play also appeals to those who cherish the thrill and drama of a gripping stage production.
Mickle praises the relevance of “The Yellow Wallpaper” to WFT’s objectives. “WFT has always been about telling women’s stories,” she states, reinforcing the play’s embodiment of the theatre’s history in advocating for women. The production, grounded on the author’s personal bouts with the oppressive “rest cure,” extends beyond a singular narrative to encapsulate the historical treatment of women’s health issues.
In discussing the cast and the crew’s journey to performance, she reveals the intense collaborative spirit that fueled the creation process. “Everyone involved in the show read the short story and accompanying articles before coming to the first read-through,” she explains, highlighting the collective dedication to both the source material and the larger social conversations it provokes.
Her artistic vision is calculated and informed, speaking to the shared experiences that numerous women confront in healthcare and beyond. “How many women have been ignored or brushed off by physicians?” she asks rhetorically, exposing a lingering universal struggle reflected in the play.
The play, presented with a suspenseful flair, doesn’t overshadow the substantial themes with its dramatic elements. Instead, it offers a gateway to further inquire and inspire audience reflection, binding mesmerizing storytelling with the critical issues of the time. “You look closer,” Mickle admits, recognizing the story’s powerful draw beyond its surface-level suspense.
Facing the challenge of adapting a literary work for the stage, especially one as nuanced and intimate as a collection of diary entries, Mickle and her team strived to maintain allegiance to the original text while meshing unseen moments into a cohesive narrative, emphasizing the protagonist’s escalating mental turmoil.Mickle shares the unique touch added to the Windsor Feminist Theatre’s adaptation – a Q&A session after each performance. “We’ll be discussing historical significance, today’s relevance in society, and whatever anyone else would like to discuss!” She promises an engaging experience that will not only entertain but also invite reflection.
She articulates the interdisciplinary appeal of the piece, designed to resonate with a diverse demographic, from students to women sharing a common thread of overlooked medical narratives. Emphasizing the versatility of the audience, Mickle observes, “I also think this will resonate with women of all ages – who of us hasn’t been taken seriously at a doctor’s appointment?” She identifies the universal pull of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, drawing in those moved by psychological drama as much as those invested in feminist discourse.
As they unpack the narrative of a woman confined and dismissed, the cast and crew of WFT’s production immersed themselves in the source material, sparking remarkable discussions. Mickle describes the rehearsal environment as a melting pot of ideas, history, and personal parallels—”It was truly a beautiful collaboration.” This deeply engaged process assures a performance informed by both collective insight and individual connection to the text.
The narrative within “The Yellow Wallpaper” offers a necessary gateway for contemporary discourse on women’s experiences with medical autonomy, according to Mickle. Through the character of the narrator, Mickle wants the audience to confront an uncomfortable reality that is as valid today as it was in the past. She relays stories of women who, much like the protagonist, have been neglected and misunderstood by the healthcare system.
Mickle’s passion for bringing this story to the stage is pretty obvious once she starts talking about it – grounded not only in its thrilling aspect but also in its fundamental feminist themes. “While this is a thriller, I don’t think that the important, poignant moments are overshadowed,” she affirms. The suspense of the narrative becomes a lens through which deeper meanings are magnified and made more haunting.
Adapting “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a journey of honoring the powerful intimacy of diary entries while weaving unseen threads into the onstage portrayal. Mickle’s commitment to presenting a truthful adaptation is evident in her revelation of how the narrative was expanded, exploring the protagonist’s life beyond the written word, thus enhancing emotional impact and audience immersion.
Beyond the performance, WFT anticipates stirring deep dialogue through the post-show Q&A sessions. Mickle hopes these discussions will foster a closer examination of the historical context and its parallels with contemporary society, particularly echoing the voice of the author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and her intent.
With its unique amalgamation of art and advocacy projected to ignite conversations about women’s rights and the medical establishment, “The Yellow Wallpaper” will offer an intense, participatory experience for its audience. The play runs from January 19 to 27 at The Shadowbox Theatre at 1501 Howard Ave, Windsor, with doors opening at 7:30 pm and tickets available online or at the door.