A recent New York Times article described a panel of dissatisfied female writers who believe their work is underrepresented in the local theatre scene. At least over at Manhattan Theatre Source in October, it was all about the ladies.
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke
It’s fitting that all the short plays in Estrogenius’ fourth week were written and directed by women. But promotional materials for this October’s “celebration of female voices” at Manhattan Theatre Source also feel the need to answer the question of why there are “so many” men in this year’s plays. This is peculiar because it implies that addressing the concerns and describing the lives of women needs to happen in a male-less space. The playwrights certainly don’t need to write men out of their plays in order to be writing from a female perspective (and when they do, it shouldn’t be as a crutch); one play, “Safety First,” says a lot about women without any onstage. If there is a connection in these works, it’s in their treatment of the perception of women and femininity in the public sphere.
The lead-off play, “Little Birds” by Joy McCullough-Carranza, addresses this theme head-on with its portrait of three fictional female astronauts (Lori Brigantino, Dawn D’Arcy, and Lynn Stetson). In its alternate history, a group of women pilots push for a mission to demonstrate their fitness for space, only to find themselves stranded for 42 days on the moon. The leader, the dreamer, and the cynic, facing certain death as their supplies dwindle, reflect on the separate paths that have brought them here, but director Melanie Sutherland never frames the debate in terms of what they gave up; as if respecting the alternate universe of the play, she portrays the women at the end of a long conversation, but at peace with their choices.
Danna Call’s “Safety First” (directed by Maura Kelley) treats femininity through its opposite: the traditionally masculine pursuit of hunting. Two hicks (Tomike Ogugua and Robert Ross Pivec), armed with a sock puppet named Ammo and a .38 Winchester named Mr. Heston, are teaching a gun-safety class which devolves into an argument about an incident involving a one-armed pharmacist. Full of swagger when they start, the men, who directly address the crowd as wannabe hunters, lose some of their magnetism once they cease to play for laughs, but the play’s (slightly obvious) point is still well taken.
The women of “Parkersburg” (written by Laura Jacqmin) find themselves in a similar predicament to the astronauts of “Little Birds,” but once the novelty of seeing female coal miners has worn off, there’s little more to this slice of life. The three workers have been directed by their female supervisor to find a new vein or a new job; even their highest ambitions, of going to work in the potentially mythical mine on the other side of the mountain where they can quit work at 5, are enclosed by the present. Its emotional dead end makes it one of the weakest offerings, along with Lucile Lichtblau’s “On the Beach,” a sitcommy story about aging, told by two couples on a public beach. The elders (Gloria Rosen and Anthony Spaldo) are taking advantage of what may be a very short amount of time left together; the newlyweds (Louis Changchien and Autumn Horne) are embarking on their new life with the earnestness of the annoyingly certain. The contrast provided some chuckles, but its ending is too pat for comfort.
The dystopic vision of Lane Bernes’ “New York, New York” is the strongest of the plays, even as its firm commitment to a futuristic world places it outside the aegis of human experience. In the New City, post-President Giuliani’s second term, citizens are segregated by profession and a Metrocard is your ID; an artist and a banker try to buck the system’s official discouragement of cross-cultural commitment, and, per West Side Story, find a place for them both. A crowd-pleasing gag featuring Tony Kushner threatens to derail it, but its daring plot is unexpectedly sweet because of the choice its mismatched lovers make.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.