Writing, Production and Gender in Modern Theatre

My Five College Theatre training is appearing in the title of this entry. Have been thinking about my impressions of recent plays in light of the realization that of the 20+ plays I’ve seen in the Bay Area this year, the ones that stood out the most (thus far) were written by men, but produced in all other areas by women. I’m interested to contemplate if this is a coincidence or part of a larger thematic trend. Cases are outlined below. In both cases, I had a direct connection to at least one cast member.

Over the Mountain: “Set in an oddly familiar totalitarian state, this lyrical play explores a world where two sisters, faced with the severities of war, must make choices that threaten to sever them forever” said the press release. I heard about it through an email from a supporting player, whom I’d worked with last fall and co-starred as a close friend and fellow freedom fighter. In her words, this African American actress “didn’t want to look like a Black Panther” so she dyed her black/gray hair platinum blond just for the part.

The play felt like theatrical nirvana to me, from the grand theatre space originally used as a 1930’s cinema to the sparse set design that captured a cross between being stuck in the outside world and stuck in one’s home. Original music emphasized the lyricism of the dialogue and surroundings, and the composer was featured in a small ensemble part. The story felt immediate because it did not over-expositive itself. The totalitarian state was never named, which added to the urgency of the plot and acting. The sisters and protagonists didn’t know where they were going next, and the audience members were right there with them.

Collected Stories, seen last night in its opening performance at the charming Cinnabar Theatre in Petaluma, was a vastly different subject: the wars of academia and hidden issues of class and status within that profession. An older professor and younger devoted student are initially drawn together when the student becomes her personal assistant. As the years pass and they are drawn closer, it becomes apparent that each character has a hidden agenda. It is only through an act of betrayal (or is it?) that a resolution is achieved, and its not a happy one.

This production benefitted from extremely focused performances from its two leads, solid on-the-mark direction, and a beautiful set that included large cutouts of historical figures alongside three musty brown bookshelves in the professor’s apartment. The play stays in my mind because there are no easy answers, and although you may think that one side of the story is the right way to see it, a compelling reason exists to consider the other side as well. Both of the lead actresses have performed in the past with my current company, Porchlight, and the director was the resident directer for PTC from 2002-07.

I wonder if these plays would have been different if it was an all-male company performing it? Or if the genders were mixed of the teacher and student? It’s likely that the dramatic impact would not be the same, and the general theme is something worth considering as I continue to lead an active performing arts cultural life here.


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