The Stick Wife is a two-act play set behind the Bliss home in Birmingham, Alabama, during the autumn of 1963. Clotheslines haphazardly crisscross the stage, which is littered with what Cloud terms “the junk of marriage.” Rusting upturned tubs substitute for patio furniture and a rifle box serves as the back step. Such a set is appropriate for the debris of human lives that fall under examination throughout the play. In act 1 the play interweaves the lives of three unemployed working-class white men and their wives as they respond to the news of the Birmingham church bombing, which killed four young black girls. In Cloud’s backyard perspective of historical events, the most unremarkable of characters become the key figures: housewives, who passively watch the unfolding events on television, and their husbands, members of the Ku Klux Klan, who clandestinely participate.
The title character and protagonist is Jessie Bliss, a housewife married to Ed Bliss, an out-of-work mechanic, who insists her place is in the home. While Ed roams the city on Klan business, Jessie remains in a backyard that is more prison than playground. “You always gonna be right where you are,” Ed insists when Jessie threatens to leave. His words prove eerily accurate when he returns, after a prolonged absence, to reunite with her in the same place. In his absence she reclaimed the yard as her refuge and her body as her own, but upon his return, both the land and, by extension, her personhood are instantly relinquished to him. Two additional stick wives and their controlling husbands complete the cast of characters. Shadows of light appear at intervals during the play to indicate moments of insight or haunting, but these ghosts are technologically produced, not enacted. Thoughts of her grown children, who fled the very home that she cannot leave, equally haunt Jessie.
Act 1 opens with Ed and Jessie engaged in a verbal battle. Jessie wants to know where Ed is going and when he will return, but her repetitive questions about space and time are deflected. Ed’s reticence drives Jessie to consider following her husband, an idea he prohibits. She cannot accompany him on his secret mission because, according to Ed, as a woman she cannot protect herself from attack, and he refuses to be her bodyguard. Jessie is commanded to keep quiet and stay put, while Ed is free to speak and to leave. In a monologue Jessie reveals her fantasy...
(The entire section is 994 words.)