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Photo: Joan Marcus

Cititour.com Review
I wouldn’t dare argue with Jaclyn Backhaus, or those in the audience affected by her new play “Wives,” now at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Playwrights Horizons, about her subject matter. You’ll get no argument from me that women have often been treated as second-class citizens, especially in history; that they’ve too often been relegated to supporting roles, despite their own considerable accomplishments; and that the male patriarchy has often been condescending, thoughtless, and downright insufferable.

Yet, I sincerely wish that Backhaus could have made her points in a much better written play than this one: a quartet of hit-and-miss vignettes that too often comes off as a very special episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Like many recent episodes of the NBC late-night mainstay, it misses its targets more often than it hits them; thinks using vulgar language (especially in period-era pieces) is clever when it’s basically just cheap; and, especially in its final “sketch,” indulges in an unnecessarily long set-up and then takes too long to make its point – all shortcomings not aided by Margot Bordelon’s ho-hum direction.

Like “SNL,” though, “Wives” is somewhat redeemed by its female actors: three wonderful performers – Purva Bedi, Adina Verson and Aadya Bedi – who make the most of every opportunity given them. (Sathya Sridharan plays the token man in each section, doing what he can with deliberately underwritten roles.) For example, they are collectively and individually hysterical as the three surviving wives of Ernest Hemingway – Hadley Richardson, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Hemingway – who bitterly express their resentment of the author’s use of their lives as little more than literary fodder in the evening’s best segment.

Verson, perhaps the most versatile member of the cast, also shines as a lowly court cook (doing a spot-on impression of Julia Child) in the opening sequence, which otherwise doesn’t live up to its potential in exploring the rivalry between Catherine de Medici and her husband’s mistress Diane, and she basically steals the third piece while impersonating, a la Monty Python, a stuffy male British official in 1920s India, who is out to destroy the reputation of Roop Rai, a courtesan to the Maharajah whom he suspects of being a witch.

The consistently superb Purva Bedi brings conviction and confidence to each of her roles, which range from the regal yet connicing Catherine to a young woman’s immigrant’s now-dead grandmother. And it’s great fun watching Aadya Bedi, who seems to relish in the more outrageous aspects of each of her characters. (Special kudos to Backhaus to having South Asian actors in three of four roles, although it’s only relevant in two of the pieces.)

We’ll be hearing a lot more about some even more famous wives later this season in the acclaimed musical “Six,” so perhaps this show is best treated as the palate cleanser before the main course.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Aadya Bedi, Purva Bedi, Sathya Sridharan, Adina Verson

Open/Close Dates
Opening 8/23/2019
Closing 10/6/2019

Box Office

Theatre Info
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036