If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

World Premiere Closes Long Wharf Season

Joe DiPietro’s new historical play, “The Second Mrs. Wilson”, concludes the Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th anniversary season on a most satisfying note. The theatre had a rough start last fall with a shaky revival of “Our Town,” but has recovered very nicely, thank you, with a fairly good season and that includes this impressive world premiere production.

Forget Hillary Clinton, apparently the United States has already had a female President. “The Second Mrs. Wilson” refers to widower Woodrow Wilson’s new wife, Edith Galt, who captivated the lonely president while he was still grieving the loss of his first wife, Ellen. Edith found herself in the considerable shadow of Ellen even after marrying Wilson, but soon was put in a unique position once the President suffered a stroke. Joining with his personal physician, Edith managed to keep visitors away from seeing Wilson for months on end, basically running the country for him while he was incapacitated.

This fascinating history is rendered in swift, breezy strokes by playwright Joe DiPietro whose eclectic resume includes the hit musicals “Memphis” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and the early comedy, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” DiPietro doesn’t dig very deeply into the relationship and probably skims the surface of actual historic facts, but that doesn’t make “The Second Mrs. Wilson” any less entertaining. Under Gordon Edelstein’s sturdy direction and cast from top to bottom with theatre pros, the play is polished and thoroughly engaging throughout.

Margaret Colin’s maternal Edith makes it easy to understand why Wilson would fall for her. She brings intelligence, wit and a flirty femininity to the role while also displaying a critical spine of steel when needed. This is most evident in the play’s later scenes as she stands up to politicos who make blatant sexist comments and refer to her as “the parasite in a petticoat.” It could be argued the role demands a bigger personality but Colin’s sexy subtlety worked just fine for this viewer. The matchless John Glover, looking trim and energized, is simply splendid as the ailing president and there is solid supporting work by Harry Groener as his trusted aid, Nick Wyman as a venal Henry Cabot Lodge and Steve Routman, hilarious as the neglected Vice President.

Linda Cho’s simple but lovely costuming shifts smoothly to cover a five-year period and scenic designer Alexander Dodge delivers his customary elegance with plush leather furniture framed within the burnished wood and brass setting. DiPietro’s savvy script is smart enough to draw parallels to current political situations proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same. To that end, however, you certainly won’t find more pleasant political company than “The Second Mrs. Wilson.”

“The Second Mrs. Wilson” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through May 31. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwhar.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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