Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Second Mrs. Wilson
Long Wharf Theatre

Also see Fred's review of The Liar


John Glover and Margaret Colin
Playwright Joe DiPietro's The Second Mrs. Wilson, in a world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre through May 31st, involves and educates its audience from the opening moment. The drama begins in Washington, D.C. in 1915 as President Woodrow Wilson (John Glover), having lost his first wife Ellen several months earlier, finds himself romantically inclined toward Edith Galt.

Alexander Dodge's sumptuous scenic design brings us to the interior of what looks to be a Victorian mansion. Politicians visit Wilson here during the first act and one views the Capitol through a rear window. It is here that he works and where Edith (Margaret Colin) and he realize mutual affection. They will soon marry. The trappings include shades of deep brown for flooring, back wall, and pillars. The chairs are plush and Dodge has added many, many lamps, all beautifully lit by Christopher Akerlind. John Gromada's original music is most appropriate, and costumer Linda Cho has a variety of suits for the political types, almost all men.

There are individuals such as Colonel Edward House (Harry Groener) and Secretary Joe Tumulty (Fred Applegate). They have been Wilson's longtime colleagues and supporters who both challenge and care about him. Vice President Thomas Marshall (Steve Routman) says little during the first act. Later, he expresses clearly that he feels he holds his position only because he could secure votes in Indiana; Marshall has always felt shunted aside if not ignored. Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Nick Wyman) is oppositional, annoying, and bombastic. Wilson says, at one point, "Only peace between equals will last." Lodge is vexed by Wilson's plan for a League of Nations and insists upon his modification of the idea.

Most of the men, before interactive dialogue occurs, appear as a Greek chorus of sorts as they offer narration and perspective for theatergoers. The device is utilized a few more times, and quite positively. DePietro's plot finds Wilson contemplating World War I and genuinely hoping that the United States will not enter. His desire is to create the League and in this way limit the damage when it is necessary to become part of the conflict. At this time, and otherwise, he trusts Edith, respecting her acumen and political understanding.

Wilson evidently previously recovered from a minor stroke and now gets headaches from time to time. Just before the first act concludes, he is monumentally stricken with a massive stroke. When the production resumes, Edith has begun to assume greater control of daily White House leadership. She, in his absence, is a policy maker. Woodrow has lost the use of the left side of his body and is confined to a hospital bed. Both of the lead actors in the show are superb. Colin is winning, smart, strong, savvy, and tied to her new husband. Glover's extraordinary transformation is amazing. During the first portion of the show, his Wilson is witty, aware, and, at times, jaunty. As the stroke victim, he wears the physically debilitation in singular, convincing fashion. This actor's discipline is exemplary.

The acting ensemble also includes Dr. Stephen Barker Turner as Cary Grayson, who must deal with the President's difficult condition for much of the second act.

Gordon Edelstein directs most precisely. The performance space is expansive and it serves as locales both in D.C. and for the Wilsons' excursions to Paris. Edelstein is working with a new script and with American history through this piece, one which is both informative and creative.

The Second Mrs. Wilson is a completed work to be sure and plays as such. There are times during the performance, however, when less might be more. A touch of editing might enable even sharper results. DiPietro's skill is evident and this historical drama is illuminating. His script provides a window through which the personal and political lives of Woodrow and Edith Wilson are made available. If you wish, focus upon the complicated love story. Others might appreciate it in another context since it affords the voice of a thoughtful, articulate woman to be heard.

The Second Mrs. Wilson continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through May 31st, 2015. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson

- Fred Sokol


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