A Branch of Frangipani–a stage director prepares Willy Holtzman’s play, The First Mrs. Rochester

Jean Rhys
wide sargasso sea

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.

Here is no looking glass here and I don’t know what I am like now.

The Wide Sargasso Sea, the woman in the attic, the first Mrs. Rochester

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.

My thanks to the late Dr. Roi Kwabena for use of his song, Deep Obeah, and to Dr. Maximilian Forte at the University of Concordia for his kind sharing of vital insights.

Stephanie Vlahos

Willy Holzman

Willy Holtzman

Willy Holtzman is an American playwright and screenwriter, often focusing on theatrical representations of actual historical events. Holtzman has received two Pulitzer Prize nominations, a Humanitas Prize, a Writers Guild Award, a Peabody Award, as well as an HBO Award at the National Playwrights Conference.  Willy Holtzman‘s plays include The Morini Strad (City Theatre, ATCA Steinberg Best Learn More

Stephanie Vlahos

Stephanie Vlahos

Every artist’s journey is full of insights, and, therefore, artists’ collaborations are great paradigms for fruitful exchange. I am interested in assisting expression. I cherish creative perspectives and the camaraderie in sharing how each of us approaches the journey.

The American in Tent exploring the art of the possible with podcasting and streaming Edinburgh Festival 2021