“Yellow” is a stunning modern adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” both written and directed by Conky Kampfner. Taking my seat in the Pilch, what stuck me first were the hazy yellow curtains hung on all sides of the studio. Throughout the play, they provide a clever and constant reminder of the yellow wallpaper that is the driving force of the story. A simple but innovative touch, the curtains lend a dreamlike, almost otherworldly quality to the production.
Kampfner’s writing is impressively polished, balancing serious conversations about mental health with pop-culture references (listen for the “Magic Mike” one-liner!). Similarly, her directing uses the whole space of the Pilch effectively, showcasing realistic and engaging movement.
Rachel Kevern delivers a convincing portrayal of Charlotte, a new mother who often masks her emotions with laughter, but who eventually descends into madness implied to be caused by postpartum depression. James Geddes multi-roles impressively as both her husband and her doctor, men who both ignore Charlotte’s needs by insisting that there’s nothing wrong with her. While Kevern and Geddes may have experienced some first-night jitters at the start of the show, they settled into their characters quickly to deliver strong performances overall. Ella Khan brings levity to an otherwise solemn environment in her supporting roles, and Rosa Haworth contributes to the ominous atmosphere through her chilling physical acting.
Good use of sound and lighting enhanced the overall experience, especially in transitions between scenes, though there were some very minor timing issues that could be attributed to opening night difficulties. There is only one instance where the music seems at odds with the emotion of the scene, building up to a dramatic climax, but remaining too bright and energetic for the dark moment it accompanies. The majority of the tech, however, effectively engenders the eerie, thriller-like sensation underlying the story.
“Yellow” is truly a feminist work, questioning whether anything has really changed in our approach to female mental health. The men in the story consistently dismiss Charlotte’s desires by prohibiting her from reading or writing, and this lack of mental stimulation leads to a dark obsession with the yellow wallpaper. Obviously, this “rest cure” which was common practice in the 19th century is no longer prescribed as treatment for postpartum depression, but the story’s critique of suppression of the female voice still rings true today. “Yellow” is thought-provoking, moving, and well worth an hour of your time.