My family name is Vlahos (or, Vlach). It is the name of a tribe of people who moved from Eastern Europe down into the Mediterranean, and eventually to Spain. The name was given us, my tribe was named by others. We were the strangers, sometimes mountain dwellers. Wherever we traveled, we were foreigners, outsiders, always perceived as apart from the whole.
In Jean Rhys‘s The Wide Sargasso Sea, the author reflects on miscegenation, of being foreign, the other. Set against the pervasive backdrop of 19th century colonial temperament and privilege, The Wide Sargasso Sea explores the under-represented character in Bronte’s Jane Eyre – Antoinette (or Bertha, as her husband deemed her). An inspired, if not visceral prequel to the Bronte classic, The Wide Sargasso Sea is a contemplation on prejudice, the fierce alienation in being Creole/multi-racial, and the lengths to which that sense of alienation will drive a person to unrecognized recklessness and depression. Rhys’s Antoinette is a source of self-realization, a mirror of sadness and alienation as a Dominican in Great Britain.
In many ways, The First Mrs Rochester, illustrates the human penchant for speaking at cross-purposes more as a mechanism of self-defense than intention. It explores the psychotic, the sexual, the sad as a response to societal alienation. It speaks to a female author who pushed boundaries in her consideration of civilized realities (not unlike Bronte in Jane Eyre).
Written by Pulitzer Prize nominee, Willy Holtzman, The First Mrs Rochester evinces the wit and depth of character of Jean Rhys. It is part of our exploration of the stranger. We are all foreigners.
About the playwright
Willy Holtzman‘s plays include The Morini Strad (City Theatre, ATCA Steinberg Best New American Play Award nominee, had its New York debut at Primary Stages in March 2012); Something You Did (Primary Stages, People’s Light & Theatre, Theatre J, commissioned by Baltimore Center Stage); Sabina (Primary Stages, New Jewish Theatre, Gradiva Award Nominee); Hearts (People’s Light & Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Asolo Theatre, New Jewish Theatre of St. Louis, received the Barrymore Award, the inaugural Arthur Miller Award and was anthologized in Smith and Kraus Best New Plays); Bovver Boys (Primary Stages, Cleveland Play House, Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Curtain Theatre); The Closer (GeVa Theatre – Davie Award, the Working Theatre); Inside Out (commissioned and produced by Theatre for a New Audience, Portland Stage Company, Nebraska Repertory Theatre); The Last Temptation of Joe Hill (Working Theatre); Blanco (Goodspeed Opera House Norma Terris Theatre); White Trash (West Bank Cabaret); San Antonio Sunset (published in Best Short Plays and produced in New York, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Mumbai). Voices in Conflict (created with Wilton, Conn., high school students, was presented at the Public Theatre, the Vineyard Theatre and the Culture Project). Holtzman wrote and executive produced the independent film Edge of America (2004 Sundance Film Festival Opening Night selection, Tribeca Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, Hamptons Film Festival, American Indian Film Festival – Best Picture) for which he received the Peabody Award, the Humanitas Prize and the Writers Guild Award. Blood Brothers(HBO, Cine Golden Eagle); and A Body to Die For (Emmy nomination). Holtzman received the HBO Award at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. He has taught writing to at-risk teens at Bronx Regional High School in South Bronx, and was the Lila Wallace Resident Playwright at Juilliard. He has worked with young writers through the 52d Street Project in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and on the Navajo reservation. He serves on the board of New Dramatists (where as a member he received the Calloway Award) and Harlem Stage Company.