Even though it has been 35 years since American poet/author Sylvia Plath committed suicide at age 30, her life and death continue to obsess her fans. Was she the victim of an overbearing, demanding husband's artistic ego, or the pawn of an ambitious mother?
The debate gained new momentum this week with news that Plath's former husband, British poet laureate Ted Hughes, is breaking his four-decade silence concerning Plath in "Birthday Letters," a collection of poems that will be published next month in the United States.
The debate continued recently in Moravian College's Arena Theater during a rehearsal of the play "Letters Home," based on a 1975 account of Plath's life by her mother, Aurelia.
The two-person play, which opens Thursday night at Moravian, tells the story of Plath (Julie E. Tremaglio) and her mother (Noel Fairbrothers) through the letters Plath wrote home about her struggles to be a good parent, a good wife and a great writer. At the time the letters were written, Aurelia was unaware that Sylvia also was writing the semi-autobiographical "The Bell Jar," in which Aurelia is portrayed unsympathetically.
Director Jack Ramsey defended Plath's mother, while Tremaglio said Plath was victimized by both her mother and husband, and society's expectations of women. "Aurelia always felt that she had been unfairly portrayed as the villain in Sylvia's life and she wrote her book to show her side," said Ramsey. "I'm sympathetic to Aurelia. She was a single mother who gave up a career to stay at home with Sylvia and her brother. She had gotten a master's degree in 1929 and after her husband died, she was offered a job as a dean at a local college.
Sylvia begged her not to take the job because she was afraid of being alone as a child.
"I think that Sylvia's mental problems were the result of the shock treatments she received when she had her breakdown while she was in college," said Ramsey. "She had to struggle hard to be a wife, a mother and a writer. She thought of her husband as her idol."
"I had another student as talented as Julie in the 1970s. I tried to encourage her to go onto graduate school, but like Sylvia, she had this dependency on men. She gave it all up, married, worked as a secretary to put her husband through medical school, and then he left her as soon as he graduated," said Ramsey.
Tremaglio knew little about Sylvia Plath before last summer, when she was cast in "Letters Home." "I had read `The Bell Jar,' and then I read `Letters Home,' in which Sylvia's letters are overflowing with love for her mother. It was a real challenge to weld together these two images of Sylvia and her mother."
Tremaglio, who plans to attend graduate school next year, working toward a master of fine arts degree, believes Sylvia Plath's problems are the same that she and her friends face today. "We all want to graduate, go to graduate school, get great husbands, have a great career, have great kids -- and that's just not possible. I don't plan to get married until I have tried acting for several years."
Ramsey was convinced that Tremaglio had talent from her first audition for Moliere's "The Miser." "She had this special spark," said Ramsey. "There's a maturity and sensibility about her. She's a no-nonsense actress. I'm glad that she's going to go on to graduate school and get some professional training." "I remember that first audition freshman year," said Tremaglio. "He kept suggesting different ways for me to do the role. He tried to have me do an accent. I was this little freshman and I was terrified." "Julie was right," laughed Ramsey. "Moliere was not her cup of tea, but she is right as Sylvia Plath."
"Letters Home" will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, next Friday and Jan. 31 and 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Arena Theatre, Haupert Union Building, Monocacy Street, Moravian College, Bethlehem. Tickets: $8-$11. 861-1489. * Come to the cabaret: Over the last 15 years, Philadelphia's Eddie Bruce, leader of the Eddie Bruce Orchestra, has played hundreds of weddings and bar mitzvahs in the Allentown and Philadelphia areas. On New Year's Eve, he even performed at Bally's Park Place in Atlantic City.
But last Saturday and Sunday, Bruce headed to Odette's in New Hope, using the "time off" to preview his new cabaret act, which will open this weekend at the Supper Club, New York City. "My first singing gig was in (the) Host (Resorts), outside of Lancaster. I was a teen-ager and I would take the train there to sing four songs," said Bruce, whose songs salute his idols -- Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Michel LeGrand and Jacques Brel. "After that I knew that I wanted to become a singer." Eddie Bruce will be the featured vocalist with the Tony Corbiscello Big Band at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. today at the Supper Club, 240 W. 47th St., New York City.
$15 cover charge between 8 p.m. and midnight. (212) 921-1940.
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