By James Bartholomew
With a title like “My Dead Wife” it should come as no surprise to find sorrow, grief and tragedy in abundance. But what’s far less expected (and pleasantly so) is that this play, written and performed by Mike Folie, is a lot less interested in being dour and morose than it is in being uplifting and funny.
“My Dead Wife” is the autobiographical story of Mr. Folie, whose wife died suddenly in 2011. In the time since her passing, he has had to learn to survive and move forward with his life, empty and mired in guilt though it may seem. Mr. Folie gives much‑needed context for his loss throughout the play, telling delightful and heartwarming stories about the years he shared with his wife, and the eviscerating despair that came with her death. All of that makes for a piece that brims with life and vibrance as the performer bares his soul before his audience.
Mr. Folie is astonishingly honest about his navigation of guilt, and the idiosyncrasies it has developed in him. He explains the ways he’s come to characterize his dreams about his dead wife, and his misguided attempts to honor her memory, through an acorn. More than that, he describes the immobilizing pain that accompanies the loss of a loved one. To paraphrase, “grief is a 50‑pound cat that sleeps on your chest day and night.” Juicy lines like that pepper the piece, and Mr. Folie, himself a seasoned playwright, has a command of prose that’s both elegant and natural. The stories that make up “My Dead Wife” flow into each other with ease, each one building neatly off the last. While they don’t always feel especially relevant to the overarching plot, the details that Mr. Folie adds to his recounted memories help ground the piece and add dimension to his struggle.
Without a doubt, “My Dead Wife” is meticulous in its construction and execution, but Mr. Folie’s sincerity and vulnerability keep the piece from ever feeling artificial. For much of the performance, Mr. Folie is seated behind a desk on a wheeled office chair. He spins and sways in his seat, reclining in lazy comfort when the mood strikes him. It would be bad acting almost anywhere else, but his casual mundanity only adds credence to his performance.
In fact, there’s hardly any feeling of “acting” or “performance” in the performance. Watching “My Dead Wife” feels less like seeing a devised play, and more like listening in on a grieving man’s poetic musings during his therapy sessions. Confessions are often ingratiating, and Mr. Folie capitalizes on that fact with amazing success. Especially when their stories are told this well, it’s difficult not to feel attached to the bereaved widower’s tale or to the nameless woman he’s lost.
That’s “My Dead Wife”’s other secret: Mr. Folie neglects to inform his audience of his wife’s name until the very end of the piece. He simply calls her “my dead wife” and alters the phrase as needed. “My not‑yet‑dead wife,” “my not‑yet‑dead but soon‑to‑be‑dead wife,” “my not‑yet‑dead but very pregnant wife.” These designations center the play’s focus directly on the eponymous death and add a specter of ironic sadness to even the most joyful of moments.
Thankfully, joy does permeate the thick somber clouds that hang over the play. Mr. Folie’s journey to rebuild his life in the wake of his debilitating catastrophe is oddly life‑affirming. Midway through the show, Mr. Folie repeats the questions his friends and family have asked him since his wife died. “Aren’t you angry? Angry at God for taking her away from you?” He half‑laughs, half‑sighs in response. “God gave her to me for 9,132 days. Why be angry?” How can you argue with that? “My Dead Wife” is a beautiful memorial filled with optimism and love.
“My Dead Wife”
Written and Performed by Mike Folie
Sept. 14 at 7:30pm, Sept. 16 at 4pm, Nov. 4 at 7:30pm
Director: Frank Licato
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.