LYDIE MARLAND IN THE AFTERLIFEBy Isabella Russell-Ides
Wingspan Theatre Company
Festival of Independent Theatres
Directed by Susan Sargeant
Scenic Design – Rodney Dobbs
Costume Design – Barbara C. Cox
Sound Design/Photography/Images – Lowell Sargeant
Stage Manager – Marie Charlson
Catherine DuBord – Young Lydie
Cindee Mayfield-Dobbs – Old Lydie
Photo by Lowell Sargeant
Reviewed Performance: 6/1/2013
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In true Great Gatsby fashion, Marland’s life reads like a Fitzgerald novel, revealing more strange lifestyle and behavior of American upper class society in the early part of the 20th century. Born Lydie Miller Roberts in April 1900, she and her brother George were given up for adoption as teenagers to their enormously wealthy maternal aunt and uncle. Virginia and Ernest Whitworth (E.W.) Marland’s fortunes were made from his success in the oil business in Ponca City. Two years after his wife died in 1926, E.W. had Lydie’s adoption annulled and they were married. She was 28 and he 54. Considered one of the wealthiest men in the world, only two years later he lost much of his fortune and shifted into politics, elected to U.S. Congress and then as Oklahoma’s governor in 1934.
But E.W. never regained his former wealth and after his governorship in 1941, they moved into the chauffeur’s cottage behind their former mansion, selling the house and grounds to the Carmelite Fathers. E.W. died a few months later, leaving Lydie a widow at 41. For the next 12 years she remained in the cottage, a recluse to her past and the world.
In 1953, Lydie Marland packed her possessions into a car and drove out of apparent existence, her whereabouts unknown for the next 22 years. As she had been nationally known, reports of her working as a maid, or seen in a bread line cropped up over the years. She was even seen marching in an anti-Vietnam rally in Washington D.C. It was there that an Oklahoma lawyer and childhood friend found her and arranged her return home. Living in the cottage on her former land, she led efforts to turn what E.W. had named the Palace on the Prairie into a museum. With the aid of supporters, she succeeded in her efforts and so continued to live in the cottage until her death in 1987.
Russell-Ides said it was the broken marble statue, one made in Lydie’s youth that had been supposedly destroyed before she disappeared, that made her fall in love with the story. She called it “a case of broken identity”. And so she too places her play in the afterlife, though a decidedly different one than in Dead Wait. Here, Lydie arrives at the end of her tragic life and fragments from her former glory are there to welcome her - a maroon chaise lounge, a side table with etched crystal wine decanter and glass, a hallway column from the great mansion, a bit of tile flooring, a marble pedestal. A full-length gilded portrait frame on casters is set upstage and is the “doorway” to meeting her youthful self, the marble statue come back to life.
In a most apparent vision of opposites attracting each other, Old Lydie is clothed in layers of green overcoat, silk pajama pants, holey tennis shoes and rag bandana. Young Lydie arrives with long coat, cloche hat and luggage to reveal a beautiful full-length ivory sleeveless sheath with boa feather hem, the same she wore while posing for the statue.
Russell-Ides also said she wanted to tell Lydie’s interior story, one where “she solves her own mystery”. And how great would that be, to have your own personal “historian” to keep facts accurate? But maybe then it wouldn’t be, to have your youthful self remember exactly how things were while your older self wants the truth as you remember or want to remember it. This is the story that I wanted to see in Lydie Marland in the Afterlife, but oceans of exposition drowned out the inner story, the mystery.
Instead of including a brief overview of Lydie Marland’s history in the playbill for clarity, each and every little part of her life are explained between the two actresses, with little chance to delve beyond her life’s exterior. With so much extraneous detail of her past exploits and actions, the connection/confrontation of the two Lydies never comes to fruition. Yes, there are brief scenes when the recognition of one conflicts with the other’s, leading to some wonderful moments of interaction, only to be lost within yet more exposition.
A full-width back cyc reflects different colors for mood, and slides from the actual mansion, including entryway gate, elaborate gardens and the statue’s face broken into pieces, are interspersed occasionally. While each slide is meant to support the scenes, they become unnecessary as the real story should be the one between the two Lydies, not her past.
Both actresses fulfill their roles beautifully. Catherine D. DuBord holds the regality and grace of Young Lydie’s early womanhood well throughout the play. With pale complexion and rosy cheeks, her body language and demeanor denote one who quickly learned her new place in society. There were times, though, that I wished to see the impoverished young girl underneath, the one whose life so rapidly changed forever.
On the opposite end, both physically and emotionally, is Cindee Mayfield Dobb’s portrayal of Old Lydie. Ashen-faced and dirty, with a slight stoop and wobbly gait, Mayfield shows Lydie’s physical deterioration while still holding on to some gentility and grace, giggling occasionally at her words or actions and coyly holding her hand to her mouth to conceal black teeth. It is here we see Lydie’s anger at both her circumstances and her own life choices. Mayfield presents a solid performance of a woman in constant contradiction with herself.
A lovely moment between the two is when they reverse roles, and Young Lydie, who had been gushing over the glorious life she leads, suddenly vividly recalls certain things she detested while Old Lydie forgets those things and, like a mother, holds her youthful self, remembering all the wonderful moments she and E.W. Marland shared.
Since anyone can read the history, as it is known, of Lydie Roberts Marland, the interest for me would be to see the unknown, leading to the exploration of her own self or to whom she became within those 22 years. Russell-Ides is on a good track, one of great theatrical imagination that needs to believe the audience can go on the ride without all the excess baggage.
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