“The Second Mrs. Wilson”

Long Wharf Theatre

Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere of “The Second Mrs. Wilson,” a fascinating and intriguing new historical drama by Joe DiPietro. As masterfully directed by Gordon Edelstein, this play explores the time period of the second marriage of President Woodrow Wilson, to Edith Galt, focusing specifically on the aftermath of Woodrow Wilson’s stroke and his wife Edith’s actions during the time of her husband’s inability to fully function as president.

“The Second Mrs. Wilson” uses the political events that occurred during this time in American history (from 1915 to 1920) as the show’s plot, but playwright Joe DiPietro has invented the dialogue scenes that make up a large portion of the play. One of the nicest things that can be said about this production is that it makes one eager to further explore the historical period that this play dramatizes. With a stellar cast led by Margaret Colin and John Glover, “The Second Mrs. Wilson” is quite riveting and definitely a play worth checking out.

One of the highlights of “The Second Mrs. Wilson” is the terrific acting by the entire company of actors. On a gorgeous and expansive set by scenic designer Alexander Dodge, director Gordon Edelstein has staged his cast to slowly come out onto the stage even before the lights have gone down. Indeed, one is greeted to the sight of actors playing pool at the back of the stage and smoking cigars, even as audience members are still being seated. This directorial decision actually pays off quite well, with the audience immediately becoming involved with the action of the play.

Margaret Colin plays the title character of Edith Wilson and her work here is simply exquisite. Splendidly costumed by Linda Cho, this actress really anchors the production and she is not afraid to come across, at times, as less than sympathetic. Margaret Colin’s Mrs. Wilson is forthright and determined and unafraid of making waves in the White House, much to the chagrin of the politicians who surround President Woodrow Wilson. That Margaret Colin is also beautiful and touching is a credit to this actress’s multi-layered portrayal of Edith Wilson.

As her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, John Glover is similarly wonderful, especially in showing the arc of this historical figure, from a man in the prime of his health to the debilitating effects of his stroke. The scenes of John Glover in bed, barely able to speak because of the stroke, are truly heartbreaking and moving without ever becoming maudlin. Everything rings true in John Glover’s performance as Woodrow Wilson.

The supporting cast is also top notch. As Colonel Edward House, who ultimately betrays the president, Harry Groener is excellent and is quite striking in all of his scenes. Fred Applegate (whom I saw do such fine work in last season’s Broadway musical, “The Last Ship”) is jovial and strong as Secretary Joe Tumulty, who, other than Edith, remains closest to the president throughout the play. As Vice President Thomas Marshall, Steve Routman is all nervous tics and plays insecurity quite well. Stephen Barker Turner is warm and supportive as Woodrow Wilson’s doctor and, in the almost villainous role of Senator Harry Cabot Lodge, Nick Wyman is not afraid to come across as unlikable and does good work as the “heavy” (if you will) of the show.

Playwright Joe DiPietro has skillfully and seamlessly interwoven historical events (including the sinking of the Lusitania and President Wilson ultimately declaring war on Germany in 1917) with intimate scenes between Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith. The fact that everything about “The Second Mrs. Wilson” comes across as real and true is a testament to the talents of the playwright, director Gordon Edelstein, and his wondrous cast. Even if you are not a fan of historical drama, “The Second Mrs. Wilson” at Long Wharf Theatre is still highly recommended because it manages to transform history into a truly human and moving story of the marriage between President Wilson and his wife Edith.

“The Second Mrs. Wilson” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through May 31, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.longwharf.org or call the box office at (203) 787-4282.

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