“Why did I do it? Would I do it again?” wonders Sylvia Plath, adding, sardonically, “And was it a good career move?”
The American-born poet who took her own life in 1963, age 30, is long dead and hovering near her grave in England, in San Francisco playwright Lynne Kaufman’s new play, “Who Killed Sylvia Plath?”
In the 70-minute solo show, local treasure Lorri Holt demonstrates her considerable actorly talents, inhabiting the lightly fictionalized character with grace and depth.
Directed by Warren David Keith, Holt presents a Plath who, as Kaufman imagines her, is now more mature than the emotionally unstable young woman that she was in her brief lifetime. But she can still reenact that younger self.
This is a largely linear narrative in which Plath tells her story from around the time she fell in love with British bad-boy poet Ted Hughes (whom some have blamed for her suicide, but she’d attempted suicide, and had electroshock therapy, before she ever met Hughes, and, like Virginia Woolf before her and Anne Sexton after her, clearly suffered from depression ).
Plath relates her story right on up to — and slightly past — when she stuck her head in the oven, leaving behind two children.
Along the way, Plath — or, more accurately, her ghost — muses about her struggle for the literary acclaim that she feels eluded her (remarking that “The Bell Jar” sold much better after she died than before), about her inability to accept Hughes’ non-monogamous nature, about finding her own fervent poetic voice only after her divorce (“For the first time I am able to let my rage fuel my art!” she exults), about shame and motherhood and more. Holt also occasionally, and skillfully, embodies both Hughes and their daughter, Frieda, as an adult.
Archival slides are sometimes projected on the back wall (unfortunately too dark to see well) and there are some recorded snatches of period song, but on the whole this is a straightforward and accessible glimpse of the inner Plath as imagined by Kaufman.
Of course, you won’t find out who killed Plath—in fact, it’s an irrelevant question—but if you know nothing about the poet, you’ll learn a lot. And even if you’ve read one of the biographies of her, thanks to Kaufman’s and Holt’s artistry you’ll likely be touched by this poignant theatrical portrait.
Who Killed Sylvia Plath?
Presented by The Marsh
Where: 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 p.m. Sundays; closes June 16
Tickets: $25 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org