Berkshire Theatre Group
8/4 thru 8/11
Edith, the premiere story of Edith Bolling Golt Wilson, made its debt in the historic Berkshire Theater Group’s Mainstage Theater. It is hands down one of the best plays of the Summer–no, one of the best plays of the year. Yes, Edith is that good.
At the forefront is Edith Wilson, wife to the 28th president of the United States, played by Tony Nominee Jayne Atkinson, who delivers a stunning, brilliant and flawless performance, reminding us First Lady’s can be America’s Iron lady, long before Margaret Thatcher was a household word.
Woodrow Wilson (Jack Gilpin) served from 1913 to 1921. His presidency fell squarely from the beginning to the end of World War I, the “great war” that was supposed to be the last war to be fought. Since 200,000 American soldiers died under his watch, Wilson was eager to push for the Treaty of Versailles and for the creation of one single, powerful group, the League of Nations, to assure peace on earth would follow. But he met considerable resistance, primarily from Senator Lodge (Walter Hudson), who refused to allow passage of either bill without considerable amendments. When the president appears absent for a few weeks, rumors start to spread. In fact, Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke and was not expected to make it. He was bedridden and made limited appearances, usually at the behest of Edith.
With rumors of Wilson’s illness being realized, Lodge and his predators were about to pounce to get their way and to defeat the creation of the League. But first, they had one major foe and piece of resistance to overcome: Edith Wilson, wife to the President and mother to her country, who was determined to fight for them both to the bitter end, no matter how large the foe. Edith Wilson stood as gatekeeper, refusing to let her husband’s dreams and his presidency be defeated. She rolled the president to the window in his wooden wheel chair, his cheeks ashen with the pain of a losing fight, and stood behind him, to prove neither one of them were beaten. The scene revealed a rare, intimate peak to the end of life, the end of an era.
We know now, of course, what happened to the League of Nations. It, and the Treaty of Versailles, were used like cinders to ignite what was later to become the Second World War.
The acting in this play, particularly by Ms. Atkinson, is absolutely incredible. She is graceful and elegant, strong yet poised. But the play’s success lies in the culimination of a team effort: It is masterfully written (Kelly Masterson), and stands on strong script. The play was directed by Michael Sexton, who used a spectacular scenery set, lighting combination and time period stagehands to move the scenery and set around with clock work precision, in what came to together in a fast moving, please-don’t-end contender for best show of the year.