“How can I write myself if I don’t believe that I exist?”, asks Swarn (Purva Bedi), an aspiring student of the Witches of Oxbridge University Club. It may well be one of the most intriguing existential questions presented in Jaclyn Backhaus‘ new Off-Broadway comedy Wives.
To paraphrase her own line, “it is so good to see her–again.” Backhaus was previously represented at Playwrights Horizons with Men on Boats, her gender twisting take on John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado & Green rivers. Despite the name, the cast was completely female.
In Wives, Backhaus takes a deep dive into historical women whose stories have either been erased or were never told in the first place. For Swarn, she is reminded:
“who has always held history
they are mens’ histories
the only histories of women that live on
Backhaus quite agrees and gives voice to these lady dynamos–voices which are fierce, funny, and infinite.
Three-quarters of Wives plays like smarter SNL style sketch comedy. The last quarter veers into the esoteric, complete with stars and constellations and revelations about ancestors. It takes a few minutes to settle into it but is beautifully and powerfully written.
Director Margot Bordelon has assembled a perfectly synchronized cast who cut through the material like a hot knife to butter. Each portrays multiple characters in various settings, ranging from 1500s Loire Valley, France to Ketchum, Idaho, 1920s India, and present-Day Oxbridge University.
Adina Verson has perhaps the juiciest roles as a daffy cook and later, as head of the Witches club. Still, her fellow three castmates are stellar
As a cis gay male who- by default- is a product of patriarchy, I left Wives wondering what I can do or say to help alleviate the burden too often faced by extraordinary beings who “are told by the world they do not exist.” Thankfully, this play exists to remind us why they should never be underestimated or ignored ever again.
Wives runs through Sunday, Oct. 6 @ Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. For tickets and information, visit: Wives @ Playwrights