“I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.” These are the final words of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, which both open and close “The Hours,” a play adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s 1998 novel by Rora Brodwin ’18 and Ellie Boswell ’17.
Brodwin and Boswell’s stage adaptation breathes new light into Cunningham’s original work, which has seen success as both a critically acclaimed book and movie. The play is a worthwhile addition, however, because it presses a step further and offers in its rendition a subtle analysis of the original works.
“The Hours” tells the stories of three women living in different time periods and locations. The play opens with Virginia Woolf’s (Brodwin) suicide in the River Ouse outside of London. Virginia dies, the lights go out and Brodwin takes the stage again as giddy Clarissa, out to buy flowers for an upcoming party. Her joy is childish and infectious, delivered with a youthful American accent to contrast the smoother English accent used moments before to portray Virginia Woolf. Just as the audience becomes oriented with Clarissa and the party she’s hosting for someone named Richard, Virginia’s voice seeps in again and we are back in 1940’s England. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” Virginia mulls, seemingly in response to Clarissa’s just-concluded scene. Tying these two plots to a third, Laura — a weary mother — reads the scene in which Clarissa Dalloway buys flowers in “Mrs. Dalloway” on her bed before joining her husband (Peter Gray ’18) and toddler son Richie (Will Nixon ’19) for breakfast.
As the play continues, the transitions become quicker. Scenes bleed into each other, building on each other like chain mail. Richie spills flour when mixing cake ingredients and Virginia’s servant uses it to brush her pie tin in a different time and place. Sometimes scenes occur chronologically within their individual plotline, sometimes they jump backwards for retroactive explanation.
It becomes clear throughout the show that these characters are connected, that they should know each other. In fact, it often seems as if they do know each other. Through the carried lines, props that seep from one storyline to the next and emotion which ends a scene in one plot and begins a scene in the next one, the three plots comment on each other. Whereas the novel and film versions of “The Hours” clearly distinguish between characters, Brodwin and Boswell’s stage adaptation double casts across many roles and brings previously concealed connections to the surface.
The play effectively conflates space and time. It leaves the audience unsure of how the stories connect. Is Clarissa’s story the content of Virginia’s book?
The lack of physical grounding is more than made up for by the strength of the three plots’ recurring themes. Leonard cares for Virginia as she struggles under the weight of depression, Clarissa cares for Richard who suffers from AIDS, and Laura herself suffers while caring for her family. The parallel between physical and mental illness helps the audience understand Woolf’s struggle with depression as she approaches the end of her life.
By the end of the play, Brodwin stands center stage between Dan (Gray) and Leonard (Nixon), the husbands of Laura and Virginia respectively. Brodwin switches between an American and English accent and adjusts her body language appropriately as her words flow into both conversations simultaneously. Finally, Nixon bursts from his role as Leonard and delivers Virginia Woolf’s suicide note verbatim to his lover Clarissa, whom he refers to throughout the play as “Mrs. Dalloway.” The two are obviously aware of what he is quoting, an eerie nod to the awareness each plot has of the other.
“The Hours” is a lyrical expression of the physical and mental pain borne throughout history and around the world. “Mrs. Dalloway” tells the story of a regular woman, Clarissa Dalloway, and “The Hours” shows how this communal struggle can manifest no matter your lifestyle.
Contact Julia Leatham at firstname.lastname@example.org .