Life in a bell jar

Beit Mazia presents a play detailing the life and work of the celebrated – and complicated – Sylvia Plath.

'Deep Sky' show at Beit Mazia (photo credit: ROY HABANI)
'Deep Sky' show at Beit Mazia
(photo credit: ROY HABANI)
You can’t really expect a theatrical work based on the life and work of Sylvia Plath to be too much fun, can you? Then again, there is the Deep Sky show (in Hebrew) created by Maayan Weinstock and Nadav Aronowitz, with Weinstock as the sole actor and with life partner Aronowitz in the director’s seat.
Plath – the American poet, novelist and short-story writer, who committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 31 – found posthumous fame with her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar.
She also won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.
Weinstock was certainly taken with Plath’s work and the story of her tragically short life, and will endeavor to convey her thoughts and feelings about her in Deep Sky, which she will present at Beit Mazia on October 8 (9 p.m.).
Weinstock first came across Plath’s oeuvre over 20 years ago.
“I read The Bell Jar when I was in the army, which was written when Plath was not in a good emotional state, and it touched my heart,” recalls the 34-yearold actress. “Back then, I didn’t investigate or explore exactly why the book touched me so deeply. I read it several more times over the years.”
The idea of Deep Sky had begun to well and truly germinate, and Weinstock eventually read the work in the original English. She says it was an important stage in her ability to fathom what made Plath tick, and why she wrote The Bell Jar.
“I managed to access deeper layers. Sylvia was a very poetic person and she liked to use imagery to describe things, but on the other hand she used a very basic level of language, a direct linguistic format, and that really comes across in the original.”
By that time, Weinstock had not only ingested the plot and emotions strung out in such an unfettered manner in The Bell Jar but had begun to develop a strong sense of empathy with the author and, in fact, to identify with her.
“I discovered a lot of similarities between us,” says the actress.
“There are a lot of dominant characteristics of mine which I found in Plath, too. I also read biographies and other stuff about Sylvia.”
Weinstock is, of course, aware of the pitfalls of identifying strongly with someone whom one has never encountered personally, where one’s principal knowledge of the person has been filtered, not to say sanitized, through the often subjective prism of historians and researchers.
“I felt a strong sense of identification with Sylvia’s perfectionism and the manner in which she made such great demands of herself. If she received a rejection from a publisher, for example, she would fall apart and her British husband, Ted Hughes [who was later to become the British poet laureate], was her rock and he often served as a kind of mentor for her.”
While the Plath-Hughes relationship did not always run smoothly and, in fact, after Plath’s suicide there were those who believed Hughes was responsible for her untimely death, Aronowitz says he has no problem with his partner’s attention to detail. “We complement each other,” he states, adding with more than a hint of humor, “I make a mess and Maayan clears up after me. We meet somewhere in the middle.”
Weinstock feels that Plath was, to a great extent, a victim of the society in which she lived, and of the social mores of the day.
“You have to remember that we are talking about a completely different era. Back then, women were expected to serve as homemakers and to devote themselves to caring for their husband and children. This is something that Sylvia feared and tried to run away from.”
It appears that Plath was concerned about the possibility of having to swap her pen and pencil for an apron from an early age. “When she was a teenager she wrote in her diary that she didn’t want to be stuck at home, and she was worried that having a family and being domesticated would get in the way of her writing,” Weinstock continues, yet noting that Plath was given to feelings of ambivalence. “She detested the idea of being shut at home, but she also craved the stability of domestic life. There was this duality of being drawn to something she also abhorred.
She wanted to feel like a woman as society around her defined the role of the woman.”
“She was sucked into the bourgeois lifestyle like a moth to a flame. She couldn’t escape it,” details Aronowitz. “She wrote about this duality, and it is at the heart of the show.”
The media also played a role in creating Plath’s conflicting thoughts and emotions. “There was the aspect of Sylvia looking out on so-called normal life and feeling so alien,” Weinstock observes. “And there was TV.”
That particular problem, it seems, is still with us.
“I see this today, as a woman and as an actress, how television conveys to us all of the ‘acceptable social codes of behavior,’ the values of consumerism, and constantly tells us the right thing to do. We are told, on TV, that if you are a single woman, you need to see whether it’s time you were married, and if you are married, it may be time you had a kid.” That contemporary aspect comes through strongly in Deep Sky as well.
Despite her by then deep understanding of Plath and the subject matter, Weinstock says it still took her a while to fuse the aforementioned two elements and get the show on the road.
“I spoke to all sorts of people when I was looking for a director and someone to help me put the play together, and one day, over dinner, Nadav and I were talking about the play and I suddenly realized he was the person for the job. He was the one who brought everything together.”
Weinstock had initially thought of basing Deep Sky primarily on Plath’s best-known work, until Aronowitz came on board and stretched the storyline.
“I was going to focus on the time around the writing of The Bell Jar, and with Nadav we realized the play was going to be a sort of odyssey which starts from the beginning of Plath’s life and goes right through to the end.
Nadav brought a fresh eye to the whole thing.”
While Weinstock had been living and breathing The Bell Jar and its creator for years, Aronowitz brought a fresh perspective to the venture.
“We look at freedom, and what that means in society,” says the director. “There are probably many women out there who would like to express their views on the traditional role of the woman in society, but feel apprehensive about doing so.”
Despite the main character’s tragic end, and the turmoil she went through in her brief time on earth, Deep Sky is certainly not all doom and gloom, and there are parts in the play designed to raise a smile – albeit a wry one – and possibly even a chuckle or two.
At the end of the day, Weinstock and Aronowitz say they want to entertain the members of their audience but also, hopefully, to enlighten them.
“This is not a didactic play, and we set out to convey Sylvia’s pain and anguish in a way that is devoid of emotional blackmail,” says Weinstock.
“I have had women come up to me after a show and thank me for expressing things on the stage which they felt and thought but had never gotten out, and say that the play is important. That is very satisfying.”
• For tickets and more information: (02) 623-0002 and