My Own Stranger | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

My Own Stranger 

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MY OWN STRANGER, Writers' Theatre. Diane Wood Middlebrook raised considerable debate with her 1991 biography of Anne Sexton: the author used tapes of therapy sessions between the poet and her psychiatrist to write it. Yet it's hard to argue that the biography revealed much about Sexton that hadn't already been strongly suggested in exhaustive and gorgeous detail in her confessional poetry. Still, a little more biographical narrative would have helped anchor Marilyn Campbell and Linda Laundra's lovely but rather formless portrait of Sexton, which consists entirely of her poems and letters. These are used to best effect in the first act, which covers Sexton's escape from a domineering mother into 1950s housewifery, postpartum depressions, and early attempts at serious poetry.

Produced in its earliest form in 1981, the play is directed here by Kate Buckley, who shows an instinctive feel for the rhythms and tones of Sexton's writing. The same can be said of the three actors--Campbell, Mary Beth Fisher, and Kymberly Mellen--who play different aspects of the poet. And Buckley's deft staging visually plays off the "double image" of mother and daughter contained in Sexton's early poem of that title. Unfortunately the second act isolates Sexton in her bipolar cycles, and the play gets caught somewhere between performance poetry and biodrama; ultimately it fails to satisfy on either count. But at least it reminds us of Sexton's powerful intelligence and determination--facets of her personality too often forgotten, obscured by the fact of her 1974 suicide.

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