From the minute Kathleen Chalfant appears on stage in intimate Theater C in the 59E59 Theaters complex she makes you believe that she is really Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932) in the one-person play “A Woman of the World” by Rebecca Gilman. In case you don’t know who Todd was, she has earned a reputation as the woman who edited and published the poems of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) after the poet’s death.
The tone of Chalfant’s performance is very informal, as directed by Valentina Fratti in this presentation by the Acting Company in association with Miranda Theatre Company. It is as if we are in Todd’s home and listening to her talk to us personally.
As Todd, Chalfant informs us early on that she is going to tell us about Dickinson as if she knew her very closely. But Todd talks more about her own life, including her relationship with Dickinson’s older brother William Austin Dickinson, as well as with Mabel’s husband, David Peck Todd, and the play gets somewhat juicy at one point with the implication that there were threesomes going on.
Mabel Todd had moved to Amherst, when her husband was offered an appointment as an astronomy professor at Amherst College. She talks a lot about the dramatic course of her life and relationships, and one waits eagerly to hear intimate details about Emily Dickinson’s life and character. It turns out that there is a kicker to Todd’s discourse that comes at us rather dramatically.
It is sheer pleasure to listen to Chalfant in her role as Todd, and in addition to knowing more about the play’s subject, we leave with even more admiration for Chalfant’s superb acting ability that has been evident in such previous plays as “Angels in America,” “A Walk in the Woods” and “Talking Heads.” At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Reviewed November 1, 2019.