THE STICK WIFE’s talented cast presents a troubling play for our still-troubled times

THE BASICS:  THE STICK WIFE, a play by Darrah Cloud, directed by David Oliver, presented by Revelation Theatre, a new theatre company in Buffalo, starring Priscilla Young Anker, Kelly Meg Brennan, Christine Turturro, David Marciniak, Steve Jakiel, and Andrew Salamone. April 21 – May 14, Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00 at the Flexible Theater, Donald Savage Building, Buffalo State University. Enter the campus via Rockwell Road, free parking anywhere on campus.  See map here


RUNTIME:  1 hour 40 minutes with one intermission

L-R Steve Jakiel as Ed Bliss, Priscilla Young Anker as Jessie Bliss | Photo by Anthony Grande

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Set in Birmingham, Alabama in September 1963, at the time of the historic Sunday morning bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church which left four Black girls dead (the oldest was just 14), Darrah Cloud’s play explores the relationships between three low-income white couples.  It brings the national headlines down to a human level.  What must it be like to live with a member of the Ku Klux Klan?  The wives each have coping mechanisms (they willfully choose to avoid reality, they drink, they engage in flights of fantasy) but little by little they start to face the truth that their husbands are violent racists.  They also begin to realize that, like all bullies, without their posse, without their masks, inside the men are weak.

Revelation Theatre is a new theatre company in Buffalo with a focus on devising original plays and performances, and the production of lesser-known and challenging scripts, including THE STICK WIFE, which is not always an easy play to watch.  Although on stage at Buff State, this is a professional, not a student, production.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  Occasionally I refer to actors as being brave, taking on roles that are far from their real-life, off-stage personalities, all in the service of good theater.  And in THE STICK WIFE, the central character is Jessie Bliss (played brilliantly by Priscilla Young Anker) who spends her days washing and hanging clothes to dry in her squalid backyard, often either verbally abused or more often ignored by her husband Ed Bliss (Steve Jakiel) who tells her, if he talks to her at all, that he is simply going “out.”  It seems that Ed goes “out” a lot and so did the real-life bomber Robert E. Chambliss upon whom the character Ed Bliss is based, “out” to meet with members of his “club,” the Ku Klux Klan, to perform acts of domestic terrorism.

Backyard set: L-R Priscilla Young Anker, Kelly Meg Brennan, Christine Turturro | Photo by Anthony Grande

Betty Connor (played by Kelly Meg Brennan), like Jessie also a mousey woman, also bossed around by her husband “Big Albert” (David Marciniak) visits Jessie often although it’s not clear whether she longs for someone to talk to who keeps the same secret or whether it’s that Jessie keeps booze around.  By the end of the play, you realize that it’s the desire to share the awful but unspoken bond these women have.  The youngest of the wives is Marguerite Pullet (Christine Turturro) who is the most feisty of the three and the first to assert herself with her husband Tom (Andrew Salamone), who acts all the man when wearing his white sheet and hood but isn’t so brave the rest of the time.

Although based on an actual historical event, this play is not at all overt in addressing history, racism, or violence.  Everything is “one-off” or “off stage” being implied or suggested and we, like the wives, are aware of something evil and dangerous.  However, just as the FBI discovered when investigating the actual case, concrete proof of what we suspect is very hard to come by.  

To say it another way, THE STICK WIFE is far from a “police procedural” such as an episode of “Law and Order.”  On the contrary, this play is full of, as the Paul Simon song goes, “incidents and accidents … hints and allegations” to which I would add innuendos.  This play requires active interpretation by the audience and you have to read between the lines. 

Did I mention the ghosts?  Jessie sees them although we do not.  In a note from the playwright, we read: “The ‘shadows of light’ which appear at various points in the play are, literally, ghosts.  I think of them as the ‘truth.”’  Whether they are projections of Jessie’s imagination or not, they exist on the material plane; they manifest themselves in some physical way.”

In THE STICK WIFE the wives get a little loopy: L-R Priscilla Young Anker, Kelly Meg Brennan, Christine Turturro | Photo by Anthony Grande

The production elements are first-rate, starting with Ron Schwartz’s set crammed with old signs, bicycles, a stained mattress, rusted machinery, and clotheslines.  Spencer Dick’s props and Vivian Del Bello’s costumes round out the look of poverty.  With good lighting by Matthew Oliner, sound by John Shotwell, and dialect coaching by Megan Callahan we are there in Birmingham (Stephanie Warnick Fight Choreographer).

What is a “stick wife?”  I’m not 100% sure, but a stick figure is representative of a human being, a bare-bones representation.  Surely the men in this play do not seem to see their wives as fully realized partners and the women seem to have been beaten down to the point that they are now resigned to a bare-bones existence 

NOTE: SPECIAL EVENT   Fundraiser for REVELATION Theatre – An Evening with Playwright Darrah Cloud, Friday, April 28th  “Hors d’oeuvres & wine” Reception with Ms. Cloud at 6:30 prior to the 7:30 performance.  Book on the website under “Upcoming” or call 716 213 7253.

Theater Directions:  Enter campus on Rockwell Road – across from Albright-Knox Gallery.  To park within feet of the theater, at the 2nd stop sign Turn Right into Cleveland Circle, then Turn Right again for the Donald Savage Building (this provides limited parking).

There will be plenty of parking (free on weekends and weekdays after 4 pm) along Rockwell Road or park in the Ketchum Hall (R2) Lot along Rockwell Road.

Lead image: The wives imagine opposing their menfolk with their own weapons | L-R Priscilla Young Anker, Christine Turturro, Kelly Meg Brennan | Photo by Anthony Grande

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

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