Dallas’ Echo Theatre presents the world premiere of a new play about early feminist author and reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The newly commissioned play, “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper,” runs through May 25.

Echo Theatre Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper
A look at the cast of “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper” – Pictures by Zack Huggins

Dallas’ Echo Theatre has added another chapter to its “Herstory Canon” with the debut of a new play about the life and works of early feminist author and reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper” by Ann Timmons. The show, commissioned by Echo Theatre made its world premiere May 10 and runs through May 25 at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Gilman is perhaps best known for her 1892 story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a semi-autobiographical tale of a woman who’s forced to undergo a “rest cure” after experiencing postpartum depression. The so-called treatment plan confined women to the isolation of bare bedrooms for weeks or months at a time. Gilman’s critique of the practice and broader themes of the oppressive patriarchal society of her time made “The Yellow Wallpaper” just one of many influential works of early feminist literature she wrote.

“I think that’s one amazing thing about this woman…that I didn’t know about before working on the play, which is just how massive her body of work is,” Echo Theatre Associate Producer and “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper” Director Caroline Hamilton said, describing how Gilman wrote “almost constantly for most of her life.”

“Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper” looks at some of the most important pieces from that body of work as well as Gilman’s own personal life, including many aspects of her life seen as unconventional and controversial for her time. Hamilton explained that Gilman serves as the narrator for the play, walking the audience through different moments in her life and connecting them to some of her writings and the characters within them, such as the young wife in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” “The way that I think about it is Charlotte (Gilman) is sort of calling these literary characters into being for us so that they can express these feelings and ideas that she was having in her own life,” Hamilton said.

The play is the result of extensive research by Timmons, who toured the country “off and on” for around 17 years in support of the first show she wrote about Gilman titled “Off the Wall: The Life and Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” “I spent about 18 months researching the original show and then putting it together and talking to the surviving family members,” Timmons said, detailing how she continued her research while performing the show. She met with scholars who studied Gilman and even performed the show for the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society. Timmons was left inspired by the breadth of Gilman’s fiction and non-fiction work she studied along with her overarching ideas that helped “lay the basis for a lot of modern-day feminism.”

For “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper,” Timmons reread some of Gilman’s works and examined new research about her. She said the Echo Theatre show features an expanded story with more characters and an added focus on Gilman’s personal life. The play spotlights Gilman’s feminism and the role she played in early movements without delving into addressing some recent critiques of Gilman’s writings.

According to Hamilton, the play explores a variety of themes like “the tension between being a working woman and being a wife and mother” and how Gilman’s feminist work “wasn’t necessarily shepherded in the way that she may have wanted” over the decades since her passing. “Ann has done an amazing job of including a good many of (Gilman’s) views on the world, on life and politics in this play,” Hamilton said.

Both Hamilton and Timmons emphasized the modern-day relevance of exploring themes within Gilman’s work such as equal pay between genders and the role of mothers. They also addressed the importance of continuing to fight for positive change in regards to those subjects today. “It’s important to see how far we’ve come and how far we have to go,” Hamilton said.

Timmons said she hopes audiences leave inspired by Gilman’s work and how she persevered through the personal struggles placed in front of her. She hopes audiences leave thinking “if she can make a difference in the world, so can I.” 

The Echo Theatre production of “Beyond the Yellow Wallpaper” runs through May 25 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, visit https://www.echotheatre.org/.


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