This appeared in the November issue of
THE STORYTELLING CHRONICLE
A PUBLICATION OF THE ASHEVILLE STORYTELLING CIRCLE
Review of Old Woman in the Basement
by Susa Silvemarie
In The Old Woman in the Basement, Gwenda Ledbetter’s character, Mariah, takes us along on her journey as she descends into the basement of her losses and grief. What makes Mariah’s sharing with the audience intimate is the second person point of view in which the play is written and delivered. As each subsequent loss is detailed in this direct address style, the audience is drawn closer and closer to Mariah’s own experience, until we absorb its heart wrenching challenges as our own. What makes Mariah’s sharing with the audience bearable is her unshakable humor, especially at the dramatic climax.
Ledbetter employs the Sumerian myth of Inanna as a corollary or illustration of Mariah’s journey, but more so, as a deepening. In another version of the Sumerian myth, Inanna descends to the Great Below, less out of compassion for her sister Ereshkigal, as out of courage and curiosity about her own subterranean strengths and treasures. Mariah Kincaid is this kind of Inanna, who, by remaining a steadfast honest witness to her many griefs and by holding as well to her indomitable humor, removes her own self from the hook of defeat and bereavement.
In our times, the experience of an old woman is seldom treated with the profound respect it deserves, seldom accorded mythological hero or divine Goddess status. This is a play for everyone since, at any age, we have shadows that bind us. But if we are fortunate, each of us will face the particular, inevitable losses of aging. It is high time for the authentic experiences of aging to be portrayed in the arts. I am grateful that Gwenda Ledbetter in The Old Woman in the Basement has given us such a portrayal.