She's bored, she's lonely, and she wants to control others' lives

In 1987, French-Senegalese writer Marie Ndiaye published a 100-page novel comprising a single sentence. Ndiaye's first work for the stage, Hilda, receiving its American premiere at ACT (translated by Erika Rundle), is essentially a play for a single actor masquerading as a three-person piece. Hilda centers on Mrs. Lemarchand, a bored and lonely upper-middle-class wife who pathologically strives to control the lives of those around her, namely that of her new maid, Hilda; Hilda's husband, Frank; and their family. Lemarchand dominates Ndiaye's drama. Exerting her will to possess and destroy through schizophrenic bouts of suffocating love and malicious blackmail, she's a sort of spiritual sister to psychotic fan Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's Misery. Her sheer immensity renders Ndiaye's intense psychosocial study a directorial challenge: When one character has most of the lines and virtually all of the action, what do you do with the other two bodies onstage? Unfortunately, director Carey Perloff opts for the bulldozer approach, making Marco Barricelli (as Frank) and Lauren Grace (as Hilda's sister Corinne) look like little more than bumps in the earth, easily flattened by Ellen Karas' rampaging Lemarchand. While Karas gets the full run of Donald Eastman's stark, white set to milk the madness of her character in perky twin-sets and pearls, Barricelli and Grace don't get to do much but stand inertly in the corner. The play's central themes of slavery and domination are powerfully conveyed by the absence of Hilda from the cast of characters in Ndiaye's text. Yet Frank and Corinne's essential passivity translates as callousness; they fail to resist Lemarchand (as if they don't care enough about Hilda to put up a fight), and so undermine our yearning to see the maid herself.

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