Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Woman in Mind
Albion Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of As You Like It and We All Fall Down


Emily Baker, Matt Hanify,
and Ryan Lawson-Maeske

Photo by John Lamb
You probably won't believe this, but there once was a time when a woman had to figure out her own future for herself, without the steady hand of the courts and state governments to guide her. And it wasn't just young women, either, first tasting their freedom back in the 1960s and '70s. The search for one's own meaning of life blossomed in mature women as well. These were often women who felt obliged to marry after World War II and who gradually realized they didn't have to subscribe to the narratives of their self-absorbed husbands, once their children had grown up and left the nest. But it also meant these wives and mothers had to nurture new visions of themselves, to leave the nest of motherly stereotypes.

So it is in Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind, a sly comedy about finding one's narrative, which crashes up through the roof of our own expectations at the Kranzberg Arts Center in midtown St. Louis. Albion Theatre Founder Robert Ashton directs a great cast with rising, hilarious insanity, landing us on a very high new plane, along with our heroine.

The two-and-a-half-hour comedy (with intermission) debuted in North Yorkshire (halfway up the east coast of England) in 1985 before transferring down to London where it ran for another ten months at the Vaudeville Theatre. And now, in a daffy revival, Woman in Mind stars graceful, deeply introspective Emily Baker as Susan: a woman with two husbands, and two families–one real, and one imagined.

By the end it almost doesn't matter which is which, as the concave disappointments of real life and her puffed-up convex fantasy world bend Susan like two sides of the same careening spoon. Woman in Mind (originally titled December Bee) breaks into uncharted territory at the end, its heroine hatched from the broken halves of her own internal conflict. Susan is an aficionado of romance novels, but married to a stodgy, tut-tutting vicar played by the very dry and clever Matt Hanify. As Gerald, he scolds her for signs of depression, while patting himself on the back for his own self-satisfaction.

Susan's high comedy, fantasy husband is played by the delightful Isaiah Di Lorenzo: the doting and eager to please Andy, complete with ascot and a bright sweater casually tied around his neck. First, however, her fantasy brother (the delirious and stagey Joseph Garner) and fantasy daughter (the Helena Bonham Carter-like Sarah Vallo) appear: gaily swinging tennis rackets, one of them dangling a glass of champagne in the other hand.

Before all that, though, Ayckbourn starts things off with a bang: Susan's two worlds collide after a comical blow to the head. A doctor (the wonderfully odd and befuddled Danny Brown) revives her, but she can't understand him, and vice-versa. A cognitive dissonance begins to swirl, until we're thrown into something like a mad Monty Python sketch two hours later that goes a hundred different ways at once. And then, in a way I can hardly describe, she's free at last.

Ms. Baker gracefully composes a perfect intermediary in Susan, between all the forces tearing her apart. Each fearful, perplexed, crazy little moment (and there are a hundred of them) flutters into the next, even when it seems she has no idea where it's all going. (And, not incidentally, I now understand the weary look on the faces of the women I see at the grocery store.)

Susan Wylie is great as her sister-in-law Muriel, the vicar's sister, incompetent, bemused, and full of excuses for clinging to subservience: helping around the house while Gerald scribbles away at a written history of their 17th century vicarage. Then, Susan's son, who's escaped from a cult (Ricky, played with sad and wary bemusement by Ryan Lawson-Maeske) shows up in Act Two to turn everything upside down.

I despaired, slightly, when that frantic Monty Python scene exploded near the end, even though I worship Monty Python, and even though this section is handled with perfect energy and absurdity. But then that, too, cracks wide open in the final minutes.

And the real Susan emerges, to start her a life of her own.

Woman in Mind runs through June 23, 2024, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand, St. Louis. For tickets and information, please visit www.AlbionTheatreSTL.org.

Cast:
Susan: Emily Baker
Bill, her doctor: Danny Brown
Gerald, her husband: Matt Hanify
Muriel, her sister-in-law: Susan Wylie
Rick, her son: Ryan Lawson-Maeske

Additional Cast:
Andy, her husband: Isaiah Di Lorenzo
Tony, her brother: Joseph Garner
Lucy, her daughter: Sarah Vallo

Production Staff:
Director: Robert Ashton
Assistant Director/Stage Manager/Props: Gwynneth Rausch
Assistant Stage Manager: Denise Mandle
Set Design/Tech Director: Erik Kuhn
Lighting Designer and Board Operator: Michelle Zielinski
Graphics and Set Painter: Marjorie Williamson
Costumer: Tracey Newcomb
Sound Designer: Jacob Baxley