Claudia and Frank are vacating an apartment—stuffing belongings and memories in boxes—when the woman Frank loved decades ago reappears. She—the woman before—wants to start anew with him. Claudia and he are married, however, and raised an angst-obsessed teenage son, Andi. Despite the circumstances, Frank entertains starting anew with the woman. He experiences second thoughts, however, when Andi near kills her and sets into motion an unexpected series of shocking events.
Presented as part of Stadttheater New York and produced under the auspices of German Theater Abroad and HERE Arts Center, The Woman Before exposes (ab)normal human states of mind. Though The Woman Before seems like an average episode in the lives of Andi, Claudia, and Frank, the script undergoes several changes when the woman before reappears. After Claudia confronts Frank about the woman, for example, that same dialogue is re-presented with nuance, and this is the device that Roland Schimmelpfenning uses to add weight to the comedic drama. Each time the actors re-present dialogue, the re-presented dialogue is infused with the fire absent from the original line reading. Each time the actors re-present dialogue, the characters become more and more human, and the re-presented dialogue pares the artifice to expose the damage underneath the once impenetrable skins that Andi, Claudia, and Frank created for emotional protection. Each time, the viewer gleans invaluable insight about the characters he did not learn the first time around. He recognizes the magnitude of what seemed like the simplest decision (jilting the woman before for the established home life). Using aural and visual devices, The Woman Before exposes, with humorous effect, the damaged critical consciousnesses that Andi, Claudia, and Frank use to make choices that lead to destruction.
Director Daniel Fish has done excellent work highlighting the heart and humor in the Grand Guignolesque drama, and his actors find genuineness in the characters and win compassion from the viewer.
One consummate work of total theater, The Woman Before is an intense lesson in consequence that proves bad things happen to normal people and good things affect abnormal results.