I was happy as a clam to be sitting in the Julia Miles Theater and staring at a multicolored, patchwork curtain on a school night. I had no idea what Freshwater was about, but the summer sounds that filled the theater seemed promising and I like Woolf quite a bit. I thought, “I won’t understand it but I’ll probably like it.” This seemed to be confirmed when the characters were introduced and the only name that even wrung a bell was Tennyson. But I got that all the characters, except one, were artsy types and it turned out that that was all I needed to get. I knew that the play was written for the Bloomsburies, one artsy group, to make fun of the old Victorian artsy group; a younger generation making fun of the older. It’s a timeless situation and from it, you can easily anticipate the nature of the comedy.
The set looked like something that would be in the White Box at Fordham. It was a drawing-room/garden with a couple of oddly placed doors and ladders. The floor and lower half of the whitewashed walls were streaked with bold, seemingly hastily painted strokes of bright green paint—grass. It seemed to say, we are not in the realm of the ordinary—yikes. But I had read too much into it. Megan Carter, the dramaturg, explained later that there had been disagreement over whether to set the play in a garden or in a house. Set designer, James Schuette, surprised everyone with a combination of the two. The play is a farce and the set was farcical—perfect.
Naturally, I did not get every joke and reference, but I got enough of them (and enough bare butt) to laugh regularly. I also understood the plotline of Ellen Terry, the de facto hero of the play. She is constantly posing for abstract virtues in her husband’s paintings. Her husband, George Frederick Watts, keeps imploring that she be glad to be immortalized as Beauty, Grace, Modesty, or what have you, but she feels trapped by her beauty and trapped by art. In the end, she escapes with a strapping young sailor who kisses her instead of paints her. She made me think of Elizabeth in Mrs. Dalloway. Just when Elizabeth is “blooming” and starting to be noticed for her beauty, she longs to be in the country with her dad and her dogs. One of her captors is Ms. Kilman, who traps Elizabeth with lectures. Elizabeth escapes by taking off like a pirate on a city bus. Pirate… sailor… just pointing it out. What’s so interesting is that the confining nature of beauty still pervades; the drawing room play is still relevant (one of the many reasons why it was so wonderful to hear the Sex Pistols blaring at the end). Though, I don’t think that city buses or affairs with sailors are the best escapes from beauty’s shackles. Piracy is the only answer?
One last point: I disagree with my classmate that Ellen Terry was cast too old. The play was meant to be performed by a group of friends. When I was 5 years old and putting on plays with my friends and family, I played Friar Tuck, a part for which I was too young, female, and way too cute. The actors in Freshwater were playing the Bloomsburies putting on a play not unlike my backyard performance of Robin Hood. It seemed completely appropriate and much more realistic that the actors were not physically ideal for the roles.
“Fun and illuminating. Two thumbs way up.”—Becca Webster