It's about a handful of modern poets who are, each and every one of them, clinically insane. And what's more, they hang out together and feed each other's insanity and push each other's hair trigger buttons. This is a work of fiction, but based on the lives of actual people. In the play, real-life poet Anne Sexton is called Anne Bittenhand, Ted Hughes is Ted Magus, Robert Lowell is Robert Stoner and Sylvia Plath is Sylvia Fluellen. Amily Dickenson appears as a vision - Fluellen in channeling her, sort of.
Anne is an aging alcoholic pill-popper. Ted is a full-of-himself poetry professor who routinely seduces his female students. Robert is a retired Poet Laureate of the United States with severe bipolar disorder. Sylvia likes to cut herself - she gets off on pain, and it inspires her to write and have visions. Early in the play, Macho Ted is seduced by masochist Sylvia and they are married.
I missed a lot by not being familiar with any of these poets' works. You can tell the playwright is doing heavy-duty parody here, poems fly out of their mouths as often as normal conversation. More. And in four distinctive styles. Five, counting Emily.
It's an extremely difficult play to perform, what with all the verse and highly charged emotions and mood swings. The cast is mostly up to the task. Diane Tasca had it easiest as Anne, who hardly ever spouts any verse, and has the very common afflictions of pills, alcohol and infidelity. It's not an easy role, just not as difficult as the others. Kevin J. Kelly is superb as Ted, the poster child for the macho man whose verse rips off Native American earth-mother soar-with-eagles imagery. Equity Actress Jennifer Erdmann is amazing as Sylvia, whom we first see silent, wheeled into Anne's ward in the loony bin (Anne's phrase, not mine). Sylvia is sometimes silent, sometimes fierce, sometimes powerful and sometimes lost. She's both the ultimate domestic wife and the hellion, usually within 60 seconds of each other. Tom Ammon, who played Robert, was given the toughest role, going from tears to mania and back again in a single sentence, all the time with a self-esteem somewhere in the gutter. He's not quite up to the role. Not many actors are. Some of it I blame on the script, which exaggerates the hell out of the nature of bipolarism. But it is set in the early days of lithium treatment, and mentions insulin shock therapy so...
It's not that Ammon does a poor job, far from it, he just wasn't as believable to me, as someone who used to date a bipolar person who sometimes forgot to take her meds.
The supporting cast is good too. Troy Johnson opens the show as a radio talk show host, and rotates that with being an orderly, a female student in Ted's class (the blonde wig didn't match his beard), Anne's husband and a party guest. Patricia Tyler, who co-produced the show with Tasca, plays Emily Dickenson's ghost, and Robert's wife. And Amy Provenzano, who may be a recent inmate of the State Home for the Terminally Cute, was adorable as a loony bin inmate, one of Ted's students, Anne's daughter and a party guest. Stoner and Tasca also fill in as students (whom we only see from the back in all but their last scene).
Savages runs Thurs-Sun through June 5.