Authors:Steve Hayes and Michelle Morgan

Publisher:BearManor Media


When interviewed about her well populated love life, Elizabeth Taylor sought to seize the moral high ground by noting that unlike many of her Hollywood contemporaries, she married most of her lovers.

Harry, the central character of Wife Five, could claim the same. Harry is quick to marry, disposed to divorce, and prefers, as an exercise of ultra modernism, to keep the exes around as a kind of platonic harem. Harry’s motive for doing this is related to his aversion to disposing of once-treasured companions. The four wives that are on stage together during most of the play spend a lot of stage time wondering why they are cooperating in Harry’s desire to stay in touch. Many readers and/or viewers of the play may share their bemusement and side with Harry’s maid Mattie, the Thelma Ritter role, who thinks that the entire thing is ridiculous and psychologically unhealthy.

The play gets off to a rollickingly good start with a genuinely and physically comic encounter set, in all places, in an autopsy room. When the action shifts to Harry’s Malibu beach house, a fair amount of time is spent with three of the four ex-wives seriously compromising the dramaturge’s conventional injunction to “show, don’t tell.” The first introduction of current conflict occurs toward the end of Act One with the entrance of a candidate for the play’s title role, a highly athletic girl toy who enters the stage doing double flips—an ability that will certainly limit the number of actors participating in the casting call. This Jungle Jane is, of course, named Kimberly, and is, equally of course, addicted to saying, “awesome” and “cool” at every opportunity. The balance of the play deals with the resolution of those three-sided conflicts among Harry, his marital past, and his possible marital future.

Harry himself is a straddle between hero and anti-hero, and as the play delves ever more deeply into his character, the less appealing he becomes. The wives, past and possibly future have their own demerits, leaving this reader and I suspect others to join in a chorus of “We love Mattie.”

The play is structurally sound—a 60-40 ratio between the length of Acts One and Two, and scene changes that move quickly, especially in Act Two, when the lighting operator really has to stay on high alert.

Playwrights write for three audiences—the reader, which of course includes potential producers; the talent team (actors, directors and designers); and live audiences who attend performances of the play. In presenting the play on the page, the playwright need not be concerned about stage directions and line indications when it comes to a live audience, which will neither hear nor see them. The talent team may never pay any attention to them, asserting as many do that these represent playwright incursions into their prerogatives. So the presentation of stage directions and line indications are most relevant to readers, and here I think the authors of Wife Five wisely decided to annotate the script more rather than less. In one extreme case, a line indication was even so bold as to tell a character whether or not she was in love.

These entirely legitimate suggestions by the playwright as to how the work should be presented on stage are, in this case, set apart from the spoken word solely with parenthesis (line indications) and indentation (stage directions). In reading other scripts, including ones I have written, I have been assisted with the use of italics, and contrasting fonts.

The play is nicely bookended with scenes in the autopsy room. I certainly won’t give away the ending, except to note that the marital history of, again, Elizabeth Taylor provides a clue.

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