The role of famed writer Sylvia Plath in the play Edge has a tendency to consume the life of actress Angelica Torn. Edge was first performed in New York four years ago, and Torn has been touring with it ever since, with shreds of Plath’s complicated life emerging in her own psyche.
Not that the actress is complaining. She admits she has been fascinated by Plath’s story ever since she was 14 but, whenever she is about to begin a new season of the play, as she does next week at Sydney’s Bangarra Studio, she finds Plath makes her presence felt in her life.
It starts coming back to me through my pores and I don’t even need to look back at the script, the actress says from her New York home.
What usually starts to happen before a new season is I start dreaming about it and will even wake up saying the words of the script. I had a dream about her and one of her poems just this morning, and it was pretty powerful -“ it woke me up. But I know it is really getting to me when I wake up crying as parts of the story are so upsetting.
It’s an interesting process and I do carry the part with me, but when it is worthy of my soul, as this is, I do it. I do try to do this with everything I do, but she [Sylvia Plath] is a spectacular person to explore. She’s worth it.
Edge is set on the last day of Sylvia Plath’s life in February 1963. The writer of such classics as The Bell Jar and The Colossus And Other Poems finds herself spiralling into an abyss, before taking her life by putting her head in the oven and turning the gas on.
While Plath suffered from severe bipolar disorder for most of her adult life, as well as a tumultuous married life to fellow writer Ted Hughes, Torn says the play is not all doom and gloom.
She says the play, written and directed by Paul Alexander, is an exploration of all aspects of Plath’s life, from the hilariously funny to her darkest moments.
The theory I used for my performance is that, before you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes, Torn says.
So what we do is take the key moments in her life -“ the good, the bad and the ugly -“ so you see the full range of colours of her life and personality. It is not just about those last few hours, but everything happening in her mind that led to that point.
While Torn expects to keep dreaming about Plath as she continues with the play, she says she learnt important lessons about not letting her roles totally absorb her from her parents, the late Oscar-winning Geraldine Page and Broadway stage great Rip Torn.
I just learnt by watching them, she recalls.
They never said, -˜This is how to do this and don’t do that.’ It was a matter of learning by seeing them in action. They never brought the characters they played onstage home into our living room as well.
Maybe it is lucky I take breaks from Sylvia Plath as I don’t know how I would go playing her for a long season. I once played her for 13 weeks and I was very ready for a little rest by the end of that, she laughs.
Edge plays from 28 February to 4 March at the Bangarra Studio, Pier 4, 5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, before touring to Melbourne and Adelaide. Bookings on 132 849 or at the Ticketek website.