Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Reflecting on Wild Child

This weekend, Mike and I attended a very satisfying performance, a one-woman play called “Wild Child,” written and performed by Kristen Clippard. The play depicts the relationship between a linguist, Susan Curtiss, and a severely isolated child, Genie. If you are unfamiliar with Genie’s story, I suggest reading about it on Feral Children. Instead of retelling the tragedy or ineptly reviewing the performance, I’d like to share how our evening watching the play affected our thoughts and conversations afterwards.

First, my conception of a one-woman play was completely revised. When I think of a one-woman show, I recall the angry monologue Chandler (of Friends) was forced to endure, alone, while everyone else was at a party with the cast of Joey’s soap. The show started off with the woman demanding: “Why don’t you like me?” Wild Child was nothing like that. Instead of a monologue, this was a true play, with a cast of characters. They just all happened to be played by one actress. I was amazed to see how successfully she played an annoying lawyer, an intelligent linguist, and a frightened, handicapped child. The transitions were seamless. Her commitment to each character led the audience to completely accept that she was becoming different people. To my surprise, a one-woman play was entertaining, and not at all uncomfortable.

Different people can be drawn to completely different aspects of a story. The focus of Kristen’s telling of Genie’s story was the relationship between two women, Susan and Genie. She eloquently presented the women’s commonalities through her own common portrayal. Mike was more interested in the motivations of the family. How could the parents have so horribly abused their child? How could they have had one normal child (a son) while keeping the other locked away? I, having read Russ Rymer’s account, was drawn to the linguistic problems presented. If Genie had no language, could she think? If so, how differently did she conceive ideas from people with language? Could she learn language at such a late age? How would her brain be affected by linguistic exposure? My own concept of Genie’s story was enriched by the different emphases that Kristen and Mike found.

Finally, Mike surprised me on Sunday by confessing that, while he watched the play, he couldn’t help but think that I would do well, cast in the role of Genie. I didn’t know whether to be offended (do I act retarded too often?) or flattered (does he respect my acting abilities so much?). I chose flattery and indulged him with my imitation of the actress’ imitation of Genie’s behavior. He gave me a standing ovation, but I felt as if I had ill-used Genie. Imitating a handicapped person for another’s entertainment can easily become farcical.

I am grateful to have gotten the chance to see Wild Child. It was one of those rare experiences that lingers with the audience members. I feel that my life is richer for having seen it.


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