Willy Holtzman’s play The First Mrs Rochester is a witty and sometimes gritty depiction of the author Jean Rhys, and the inspiration for her acclaimed novel, The Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys was thought to be dead until she was discovered by an actress hoping to revive her career. When Selma Vaz Dias finds Rhys in her home in South London, she discovers the author down on her luck, yet still to write her masterpiece. It is an unlikely meeting of two witty and determined older women, both of whom share the anxiety of cultural displacement.
The First Mrs Rochester evinces the wit, ambivalence, and depth of character of Jean Rhys. We are all foreigners.
This year’s Spoken Word performance focuses on the director’s journey, telling an intimate story in finding common ground with Rhys and Bronte.
I’m finding things and I’m asking questions, and in that pursuit, I always come back to how much I don’t know. In many ways, we can only know ourselves, but only if we are at liberty to do so. It is on that premise that II begin my journey – through empathy, while exposing the cruel and ignorant side of privilege. I am interested in women, in the disenfranchisement or subjugation of cultural identity; I am interested in author Jean Rhys as she floats in all the unjust in-betweens as she conceives her novel. She is Bertha from Jane Eyre, she is Antoinette from The Wide Sargasso Sea, and all these women peer into a fractured mirror. I see the mirror as a window into Willy’s play, A Branch of Frangipani.Stephanie Vlahos