The Dirty Dozen: May Installment Part 2
An unofficial referendum on the healing power of female friendships on stage
I don’t think I need to spend anymore time here talking about the ‘gender’ imbalance in theater, but since it still exists why not write another blog post about it, right!? I won’t spend too much time bemoaning gender politics, but did you know that there was a study in 2009 where identical scripts were sent to theaters around the U.S.A. Half of the scripts had a typical male name as the playwright, and half had a typical female name as the playwright. Guess which half were rated higher across the board….*closes eyes, slowly shakes head disappointingly, takes a breath then quietly but efficiently works to dismantle the patriarchy*.
When I look for monologues or scenes, I don’t just look for plays with leading female characters, or even plays written by women, I want plays ABOUT women. I truly believe that female friendships will save us all, and as someone who has been deeply affected by female friendships of my own, I know how powerful and intense they can be- in other words, the perfect subject for a play! Aren’t we all tired of seeing play after play about misunderstood white boys? That’s why I was so excited and inspired when I read Ashley’s first draft of How To Be Safe.
A play about the beautiful power of female friendship, How To Be Safe got me thinking about other plays that deal with female friendships. I had originally written this post with three plays that I had researched, detailing their performance history and outlining their plot, but while I was researching which plays to write about I was disappointed by how hard it was to find plays written by women about female friendships. So out of curiosity I went posted on Facebook to see if there were any plays I had missed in my research….It was like freaking Christmas. I couldn’t in good faith ignore all the amazing responses I received so I decided to scrap what I had already written and instead turn this dirty dozen into an official list of all the amazing plays that my friends, colleagues, and random FB friends took the time to recommend, with their descriptions and reviews. Comment with more plays below, and this can be a source for all you theater makers out there looking to put on your next show.
Uncommon Women and Others by Wendy Wasserstein
“Comprised of a collage of interrelated scenes, the action begins with a reunion, six years after graduation, of five close friends and classmates at Mount Holyoke College. They compare notes on their activities since leaving school and then, in a series of flashbacks, we see them in their college days and learn of the events, some funny, some touching, some bitingly cynical, that helped to shape them. Each of the group is a distinct individual, and it is their varying reaction to the staid, sheltered and often anachronistic university environment (with its undercurrent of sometimes darker personal desires and conclusions) gives the play its special meaning for today’s young women as they go forth into the changing and often disquieting world that awaits them after graduation.”-Samuel French
“This striking and exceptional play was presented by New York’s renowned Phoenix Theatre, and then selected for the PBS “Theatre in America” series on nationwide television. Affecting, funny and perceptive, the play delves into the lives, loves and aspirations of a group of seniors at a prestigious eastern women’s college. “…funny, ironic, and affectionate comedy…Miss Wasserstein is an uncommon young woman if ever there was one.” — The New Yorker. “…the real triumph of UNCOMMON WOMEN is that you leave the theatre caring deeply about its characters.” — NY Post. “…hilarious, touching, witty, insightful, and a lot of other nice things.” — Cue Magazine.
And I and Silence by Naomi Wallace
“And I and Silence” does contain a culminating spasm of violence, as well as a sexual encounter between its two characters, Dee and Jamie, who meet in the lockup when they are both still teenagers…The scenes [is] set in 1959, after they have just been released from prison and are trying to forge a life together in an unnamed city “somewhere in America.” (The virulent racism they meet on the streets when they go out together would seem to suggest somewhere Southern, or Southern-adjacent.)…The play moves fluidly back and forth between the two time periods. We first meet the older pair, catching up and exchanging wry, affectionate reminiscences about the prickly beginnings of their friendship. Dee was the one continually getting thrown in solitary for conflicts with the guards; Jamie was cooler of temperament, although she contained her own fierce will, channeled in more productive directions. Now that they are out, the plan is to secure jobs as maids.” -NY Times
Phantom Pain by Barbara Lhota
“Angela and Marnie met as kids — one black, one white — in a big Catholic neighborhood in Detroit during the turbulent 1970s. They moved together from Detroit to Chicago, got jobs, married, and have been best buddies since God was a boy. But when a third childhood friend shows up for visit, all hell breaks loose. Old wounds are reopened, lies are exposed, and secrets lurking beneath the surface are revealed. Can shared history and love overcome these phantom pains?” -New Play Exchange
Fefu and Her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes
“Fefu and Her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes was first produced at the Relativity Media Lab (part of the New York Theatre Strategy) on May 5, 1977, and was directed by Fornes herself. It was performed to a wider audience at the Off-Broadway venue, the American Place Theatre, on January 8, 1978. Fornes published the script of her short play in the winter 1978 edition of the Performing Arts Journal, or PAJ. PAJ Publications published the most recent edition of Fefu and Her Friends as a slim book in 1990.
Fefu and Her Friends is Fornes’s fifteenth play. When it was produced, she was an established playwright and director. Nevertheless, it was one of Fornes’s most successful plays and it was also an unusual format for the absurdist playwright because it relied more on realism than her earlier plays. Fornes won an Off-Broadway award, or Obie, for Fefu and Her Friends. The play’s themes of gender roles, sexuality, love between women, and insanity strike chords within a society still coming to terms with the sexual revolution of the 1960s — a revolution some historians claim has actually been going on since the 1920s. Fefu and Her Friends is a play that remains raw and relevant today.”
-Encyclopedia.com, COPYRIGHT 2009 Cengage Learning
The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
“Left quad. Right quad. Lunge. A girls indoor soccer team warms up. From the safety of their suburban stretch circle, the team navigates big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors. A portrait of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for nine American girls who just want to score some goals.” — Samuel French
CRITIC’S PICK! “The scary, exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence emanates from every scene of this uncannily assured first play by Sarah DeLappe.” — The New York Times, Read More
“DeLappe has created an ensemble of distinct female characters without leaning on romantic partners or traditional feminine tropes to define them.” — Theatremania, Read More
“DeLappe’s exquisitely orchestrated cross talk and overlapping banter, dense with profanity and jokes, is quite musical.” — Time Out NY, Read More
“The Wolves is a delightful meditation on society, sex, and soccer…DeLappe’s dialogue is hilarious and idiosyncratic, moving swiftly from gross-out humor to pain […] She offers us ninety minutes in a smart, sympathetic, female world. It’s a patch of Astroturf I would gladly set foot on again.” — The Village Voice, Read More
The Tall Girls by Meg Miroshnik
“The tiny hamlet of Poor Prairie doesn’t see a lot of folks coming into town, least of all men — they’ve all left to find desperately needed work. So when one gets off the train, everybody talks, especially the high school girls looking for a meal ticket. The marryin’ kind.
But this man is mysterious. He’s from Poor Prairie, but nobody knows where he’s been and his story’s got some…gaps. A few things are clear, though — he’s teaching at the high school, he knows basketball, and most importantly, he has the only inflated basketball in town.
As for that meal ticket? He may just have that after all, if he can get his Poor Prairie girls good enough at basketball to sell a few tickets. And keep ’em from marryin’ off. And out of fights. And out of the sights of the Committee on Play, Girls Division (it’s the 1930s — when basketball was “dangerous” for girls). And stay ahead of that mysterious past…
Inspired by the flourishing and the decline of high school girls’ basketball teams in the 1930s rural Midwest, The Tall Girls asks: who can afford the luxury of play? And what is the cost of childhood? Featuring a stong ensemble of female characters, The Tall Girls examines issues of class and gender amidst the historic 1930s Dust Bowl.” -Samuel French
“A TOUR-DE-FORCE BY THE PLAYWRIGHT…Tall Girls has a more realistic edge, with a bittersweet (emphasis on the bitter) second act that upsets all the outward tropes of the “stand up and cheer” genre.” — Arts Atlanta, Read More
“What was so nice about [The Tall Girls] is that it is out of the ordinary, in a genre unique unto itself, and thoroughly entertaining…IT’S TOO GOOD TO RUN FOR JUST THREE WEEKS.” — Atlanta Cultural Arts Review, Read More
Desdemona, a Play About a Handkerchief by Paula Vogel
“Having slept with Othello’s entire encampment, Desdemona revels in her bawdy tales of conquest. Her foils and rapt listeners are the other integral and reimagined women of this Shakespeare tragedy: Emilia, Desdemona’s servant and the wife of Iago, and Bianca, now a majestic whore of Cyprus. The reluctantly loyal Emilia pesters Desdemona about a military promotion for her husband. Her motive, however, is that he leave her a wealthy widow, preferably sooner than later. Bianca, now a street-wise yet painfully naive prostitute, visits Desdemona, thinking she is a very good friend and fellow hooker (at least one night a week). Bianca thinks the worst when she discovers that Desdemona knows intimate details of the life of her lover, Cassio. Though Desdemona has never been intimate with Cassio, her life is soon in danger when her husband, Othello, also suspects her of infidelity.” -Dramatists
“As the wrongly accused and suffering wife of Shakespeare’s tragic Moor, Othello, Desdemona has long been viewed as the “victim of circumstance.” But as Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel demonstrates in her comic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s play — aligning tongue-in-cheek humor while raising serious questions as to the role of women through the ages — Desdemona was far from the quivering naïf we’ve all come to know. “Vogel remains one of the smartest, most original and engaging playwrights to come along…” — NY Newsday.
Isn’t It Romantic by Wendy Wasserstein
“The play deals with the post-college careers (and dilemmas) of two former classmates: a short, slightly plump would-be writer named Janie Blumberg, and her tall, thin, gorgeous WASP friend, Harriet Cornwall. Both are struggling to escape from lingering parental domination and to establish their own lives and identities. In Janie’s case this leads to an inconclusive involvement with a young Jewish doctor who calls her “Monkey,” while Harriet assails the world of big business and has an affair with her hard-driving (and married) boss. Told in a fast-moving series of inventive, alternately hilarious and touchingly revealing scenes, the play explores their parallel stories with uncommon wit and wisdom — resulting, ultimately, in a heightened awareness which, while not providing all the answers, goes a long way toward achieving the maturity and self-assuredness that both protagonists so desperately desire.” -Dramatists
“A brightly witty, trenchantly observant contemporary comedy which enjoyed the unique distinction of two critically-hailed Off-Broadway productions — the second a long-run, record-setting presentation which was the most successful in the history of New York’s renowned Playwright’s Horizons. “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC is romantic — also bright, funny, sentimental, and throughout inching toward wisdom.” — Time Magazine. “…one of the funniest and most satisfying shows in town…If Dorothy Parker were a playwright today, she might have written this endearingly acid comedy.” — Variety. “…[Wendy Wasserstein is] among the funniest and most inventive writers around…” — The New Yorker. “…a nouvelle cuisine comedy.” — NY Times.
The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr
“Adapted from the story by Mary Orr, on which the film All About Eve and the hit musical APPLAUSE were based. An engrossing and revealing “inside” story of life in New York’s theatre world, told in terms of an unscrupulous ingenue’s rise to Broadway stardom. When we first meet Eve Harrington she is standing in the rain by the stage door of the theatre in which the renowned Margo Crane is starring in her latest long-run hit. Waiting for a glimpse of her professed idol she accosts Karen Roberts, Margo’s good friend and the wife of the playwright, Lloyd Roberts, and inveigles an invitation to meet the great actress herself. The meeting leads to unexpected opportunity as Margo, struck with Eve’s “sincerity,” takes her on as a personal secretary. Before long Eve has done such a fine job of straightening out the clutter of Margo’s personal affairs that Margo, while she had always jealously resisted the engagement of an understudy for her own role, allows Eve to have the assignment. Then Eve begins to move ahead in earnest, her true character emerging as she lies, cheats and blackmails her way to Broadway stardom — and then a Hollywood career — leaving the wreckage of her friends’ trust behind her. As the play ends there are rumors that Eve has found a new “friend,” this time a movie tycoon, so it appears that perhaps we have not, for the moment, heard all there is to tell about Eve.” -Dramatists
“THE WISDOM OF EVE, by Mary Orr, is a strong and gripping play…” — London Gazette. “Make a date to see THE WISDOM OF EVE…You won’t regret it…[The script] is considerably better for the updating and paring Mary Orr has done…It helps to have a good script and this is a peach.” — California Star-News.”
In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl
“In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is a comedy about marriage, intimacy, and electricity.Set in the 1880s at the dawn of the age of electricity and based on the bizarre historical fact that doctors used vibrators to treat ‘hysterical’ women (and some men), the play centers on a doctor and his wife and how his new therapy affects their entire household.
In a seemingly perfect, well-to-do Victorian home, proper gentleman and scientist Dr. Givings has innocently invented an extraordinary new device for treating “hysteria” in women (and occasionally men): the vibrator. Adjacent to the doctor’s laboratory, his young and energetic wife tries to tend to their newborn daughter — and wonders exactly what is going on in the next room. When a new “hysterical” patient and her husband bring a wet nurse and their own complicated relationship into the doctor’s home, Dr. and Mrs. Givings must examine the nature of their own marriage, and what it truly means to love someone.” -Samuel French
“Insightful, fresh and funny, the play is as rich in thought as it is in feeling…one of the most gifted and adventurous American playwrights to emerge in recent years…In the Next Room is a true novelty: a sex comedy designed not for sniggering teenage boys — or grown men who wish they were still sniggering teenage boys — but for adults with open hearts and minds.” — The New York Times
“A play that’s smart, delicate and very, very funny!” — New York Post
“If Henrik Ibsen and Oscar Wilde had decided to collaborate on a post-modern drawing-room comedy, the hotsy-totsy twosome surely would have turned out something very much like Sarah Ruhl’s genuinely hysterical new work” — TheatreMania
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel
“Ester is a swimmer trying to stay afloat. Amy is curled up on the locker room floor. DRY LAND is a play about abortion, female friendship, and resiliency, and what happens in one high school locker room after everybody’s left.” -Dollee Playwright Database
Nervosa: The Musical! by Sophie Zucker, Rachel Kaley, and Maya Sharma
“Nervosa: The Musical! is a full-length puppet show musical conceived of by Rachel Kaly, Sophie Zucker, and Maya Sharma. The play follows Anne (Sophie Zucker), a bulimic ingenue who moves to Nervosa, a safe haven for those who hate their bodies. She moves in with Clarissa (Rachel Kaly), a destructive 14-year-old whose sexual awakening was catalyzed by a school screening of Aladdin. Anne wants to have it all: love, friendship, and a tight ass — but is Nervosa the right fit for her? Or is she too fat?”
The Killroy are “a gang of playwrights and producers in LA who are done talking about gender parity and are taking action…Founded in 2013, The Killroys are named after the iconic graffiti tag “Kilroy Was Here” that was first left by WWII soldiers in unexpected places, a playfully subversive way of making their presence known.”
Even better, The Killroy list is a list of the most recommended unproduced plays by female and trans authors every year. In other words…THE GREATEST LIST IN THE WORRRRLLLDDDDD!!! Have fun never sleeping again because you are too busy reading plays and crying with happiness.
The Dirty Blondes