Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Swarthmore Department of Theater is presenting Mad Girl’s Love Song, a play directed by Kym Moore and written and conceived by Rachel Sugar ’08. Sugar also performs all of the characters in the show, which can be seen in the Frear Ensemble Theater at the Lang Performing Arts Center at 8 pm on October 4-6.
DG: So what is the show?
RS: The show is a one-person solo performance that uses the text, writings and biography of poet Sylvia Plath, her husband, also a poet, Ted Hughes, and his mistress, who’s a translator, actually, Assia Wevill, to tell a different story. It’s not a biopic; it’s a fictional thing, that’s really kind of about the flexible boundary between life and art and also deals with the place of the woman artist and what does it mean to be both.
DG: So you’re not playing Sylvia Plath, then?
RS: I am playing Sylvia Plath; I’m playing all three of them.
DG: So how did you come to do this show?
RS: I’d read a quote in a biography of Plath that I’d been reading for fun several years ago. It’s about after Sylvia Plath’s death, with Assia Wevill moving into their house very quickly and sort of starting to use the things of Plath and its kind of unclear whether that was practical because those were the things that were there, or whether it was sort of psychological. I’m interested in the latter possibility. So I thought that was really, what is that about, to start to assume an identity that isn’t your own, to become obsessed – haunted, I guess – by this sort of dead person. And then when I knew I was going to be working towards a solo performance I was aware that if there’s only going to be one body on stage you need to figure out some kind of structure that makes that an asset rather than a hindrance. This idea of identities coming in and out is one way to capitalize on being a solo performer. Also, I was really interested in using found texts, which is something that I’d started to do in Serata Futurista which is a collective creation from my sophomore year, and I’d gotten really excited about that. So I knew that was something else I wanted to do.
DG: So is it exclusively a found text?
RS: Some of it I’ve written. All of it – I’ve cut and sort of braided together – but a lot of it I have written based on found texts and using a phrase that I like.
DG: You did not originally conceive of it as a solo performance?
RS: I originally didn’t. I was thinking and saying, “wouldn’t this be cool? We should do a play about this!” to a friend who I want to do plays with. But, yeah, from the beginning it’s been a one-woman show.
DG: Have there been any special difficulties in that?
RS: I mean, working alone is really hard. There’s not the energy of a cast on stage to bounce ideas off of, so there’d be rehearsals where my director, who is the other person who’s really been there the whole way through, to bounce things off of, where she’d be saying, “Ok, create something” and I’d be in this little rehearsal space in New York, like, “Ok, I’m going to do this now.” Which is something you never have when you’re working with other people, because there’s always someone else affirming or denying and guiding what your choices are. There’s not that when you’re working alone, so that’s been really hard. But it’s gotten a lot more fun now – I worked on this over the summer – but since we’ve gotten back from school, Dan Perelstein is doing sound, Steph Duncan, who I’ve worked with a lot as an actor is stage managing and assistant directing this, and Nick Forrest is doing the set. Then Kym Moore has been here more, who’s my director, and Murph, who’s doing lighting, and having that team has made it so that there are people to bounce stuff off of. That’s made it a lot more fun.
DG: Is Kym Moore with the department?
RS: Kym is a visiting professor. She’s been an honors examiner for several years and this semester she’s working on my thing, on the other side of the honors project, is also teaching theatre and performance, and I think she’s going to be around in the spring too.
DG: Is there anything you’re particularly excited about that you’re willing to share before the show?
RS: It’s really cool to see the set realized. So I’m really excited about the visual life of the show.