How nice to see an article in “The Dramatist” on the topic of missing female playwriting voices! And it’s the lead article. The news is still bad – 59 theatres across the country failed to include a single play by a female playwright last season.
But I want to vent a bit about something else that’s bugging me of late: boy plays. I’m sick of stories without any meaningful female characters. I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care to see another production with either nothing but men onstage. Or 18 men and two – maybe three – women who are there to support the boy story.
I saw two fine productions here in Washington, DC recently: the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of “Wallenstein” and WSC Avant Bard’s production of “No Man’s Land.”
“Wallenstein is Friedrich Schiller’s play about the Thirty Years’ War, a commissioned adaption by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. It’s described as an “epic story of war, intrigue and loyalty tested.” To be fair, there are two female characters in the piece (and a couple of women filling in as soldiers to fill up the stage. They’re playing men, of course.) But it’s a boy play. The stage was filled with men. It was the story of one man’s ambition.
And the message? War is bad. I get it. So don’t do it. End of play.
What about those women? They were mere pawns to the ambition. It would have been so much more interesting to hear their side of the story, to see the senselessness of power grabs and blood and gore through their eyes.
And then there’s the Pinter. “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter was chosen because of the opportunity to put two former Artistic Directors of WSC Avant Bard’s company on stage together. Great for them. Tough evening for me.
Verbal jousting is fine. But I didn’t care. What was the point? Where were the women?
I want to contrast those two evenings with my recent experience in Omaha. That city’s historic Playhouse – where Henry Fonda launched his career – produced the world premiere of a play by a local Omaha playwright. (A woman, by the way.) It had seven women onstage!
Playwright Ellen Struve’s “Recommended Reading for Girls” is the story of two daughters coming to terms with their mother’s decisions about treating her cancer. But their very real world is invaded by characters from all the books they shared – Anne from Green Gables, the Little Princess, the German-speaking Heidi, and a Nancy Drew wanna-be girl detective.
(Full disclosure: Ellen is my weekly Skype writing buddy.)
At last! A girl play! Girls on stage, talking about relationships and family and fantasy. It was wonderful. And funny. And probably boosted the sale of Kleenex throughout the city of Omaha.
Ellen says she was writing for the audience who actually comes to the theatre: women. And women of a certain age. Nobody’s writing for them, she says. The people who run theatres are choosing “hot” or “edgy” plays or old standards that feel familiar. No one is choosing plays that makes them laugh and cry and go home feeling like they got their money’s worth.
But will Ellen’s play find a second life outside of Omaha? I sure hope so. The statistics are against her – a play by a woman about women.
I recall a golden age of Hollywood where women main characters drove the stories – “Stella Dallas,” “All About Eve,” “Kitty Foyle.” I’m ready for a golden age of theatre where every seat is filled by people like me, who long to hear our stories told onstage.