Produced by Humble Materials, The Yellow Wallpaper brings new life to Gilman’s 19th century short story, which shines a light on mental illness and oppression against women. In this modern version, Humble Materials collaborates with body-painter and Netflix’s Skin Wars Season 1 winner Natalie Fletcher, who is the sister of Humble Materials co-founder Jessica Noel. The on-stage version doubles-down on Gilman’s intentions of highlighting the medical and mental treatment that women were given by mostly male doctors.
In Gilman’s story, which is written by a new mother in first-person journal entries, a husband forbids his wife from working or writing, and encourages her to eat and get plenty of air so that she can recover from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency,” which was a common diagnosis in women in the late 1800s. As the story continues, the journal writer defends into madness with nothing better to do than observe peeling yellow wallpaper in her room.
“Our Yellow Wallpaper, like the Gilman original, is attempting to shine light on the American mental health crisis,” Noel says. “Through a modern, post-pandemic lens, we’re asking audiences to consider the pressures our society demands of women.”
The Yellow Wallpaper script was devised by the ensemble with featured writing by Fletcher, Noel, Lauren Leonard, Monica Flory and Amy Henderson. Characters were developed in rehearsal by Chachi Perez, Carolyn Breyer, Lisa Vaccarelli and the ensemble. In this modern version, Yasmin Roberti will play Jane, the story’s central narrator who finds herself trapped in a strange, unfamiliar room with wallpaper that talks and dances with her. Additional set design, as well as featured puppet design by Humble Materials’ resident production designer Kat Caro.
Humble Materials was created in 2021 and is a physical theater collective in residence at the Philly PACK garage theater, which is located at 233 Federal St. in South Philly’s Pennsport neighborhood.
The Yellow Wallpaper marks the second occasion Fletcher and Noel will collaborate on a body-paint-dance-theater project. Fletcher will body paint five ensemble members, camouflaging them into a yellow wallpaper backdrop to help tell the story.
“If your mental health is deteriorating, you’re likely to be swept under the rug … or painted into the wallpaper,” Fletcher said. “It’s always been our solution. Back in the 1800s, women were hidden away in institutions if they couldn’t function productively because of anxiety or depression. Today, we have new methods of masking mental health issues, but these cures are only camouflage. They’re not actually fixing any problems. The problems are systemic.”
The Yellow Wallpaper will take the stage Sept. 14-16 at 8 p.m. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee on Sept. 16. Tickets can be found at phillypack.org/pack-events.