Woman in Mind
Reno, NV 89501
When Woman in Mind made its world premiere in 1985 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England, director Alan Ayckbourn was redeemed for taking a chance on his 32nd play and writing it as a first-person narrative.
Critics hailed his protagonist, Susan, for her eccentric, yet repressed feelings of middle-class boredom. And, with Susan as the central character, her unstable life unraveled right before the audience, proving Ayckbourn’s decision was correct—Susan’s perspective provides a powerful story of the human psyche.
In Brüka Theatre’s current production, directed by Dave Anderson, Mary Bennett exceeds herself in her portrayal of Susan. Susan wakes up on her garden lawn after a rake whacking. Her husband Gerald, a dashing English fellow played by Lewis Zaumeyer, greets her in his silk ascot and blows her kisses. But a few minutes in, it’s clear something is wrong.
Her daughter Lucy (Jamie Plunkett) and her brother Tony (Adam Whitney) call her “mummy” and serve her champagne in their tennis duds. The outlandish duo of Lucy and Tony are over-the-top and hilarious, but then it seems they are far too charming for Susan, whose character is directed to be the epitome of an unappealing life.
It’s true, something’s wrong. You know the theater cliché “When the lights go up”? In Woman in Mind, the play’s ethereal orange lights play a significant role, symbolizing Susan’s transmutations in an out of her fantastical hallucinations. As her English family leaves the scene, Susan is shoved into reality and the orange lights go up, revealing the harsh light of Susan’s life.
Here enters Bill, her neighbor and a doctor, played excellently by Tom Plunkett as clumsy and blasé. All Susan can do is utter gibberish to Bill, “December bee?” and when she finally comes to, after Bill has harassed her into recognizing her real life, she screams.
In her real life, Susan is married to husband Rick, played by David Richards. Rick is an almost perfect contrast to Susan’s other husband. It’s hard to see Susan and Rick, ever once being in love. Susan happily admits she does not love Rick, as he rambles about his latest boring book. His black turtleneck and Hampton-esque accent do little to hide the actual situation he and Susan are in. Their son Rick (Trent Lott) wants little to do with their relationship and becomes another point of contention.
At times, the play is more monotonous than it should be. Ayckbourn’s dialogue clutters up the acting and drags out the play. With punch lines from the “wacky” sister-in-law Muriel (Sandra Neace), it’s true, as some reviewers noted during the play’s original run, that it’s almost like a sitcom. Comedy relief is provided by Muriel’s inability to make decent coffee or in one case, omelets. A laugh track or “uh-oh” music would have fit perfectly every time she appeared through the doors.
The remainder of the play is a ride of switchbacks that truly challenge us to discern if what Susan is seeing, or saying, is real or fake. Her two worlds collide, and it’s not as if Susan really minds, or cares, if she gets back to reality. After all, haven’t we all wanted to stay in our dreams more than once?
In the end, the audience can look at Susan in an almost sympathetic way as she, never once leaving the stage, faces the decision of getting better or worse. And although it’s a decision that may seem easy, the audience isn’t sure until the very end what Susan has in mind.