Arts & Culture

Female directors dominate fall theater

By
Senior Staff Writer

Strong women take center stage and run the show at Production Workshop and on the Main Stage in the upcoming semester of student theater.

Last spring, Meredith Mosbacher ‘11.5, Abby Colella ’12 and Deepali Gupta ’12 collaborated on “Bitches in the Upspace,” a series of plays addressing the inadequate representation of female relationships on stage. Now they, and a number of other female students and faculty members, will have the chance to confront that issue with a season of entirely female directors.

Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Visit,” the first show of PW’s season, runs Sept. 23-26. It features a “strong female protagonist” and re-examines the concept of “what is justice” in the light of the character’s former betrayal and present triumph, said Mosbacher, the show’s director.

“The Visit” is in the style of “comically grotesque,” Mosbacher said. It goes beyond a story of love gone bad to show “how morals disintegrate … as money comes into play, as technology comes into play, as fascination with capitalism and objects comes into play.”

In its portrayal of “the extremes people will go to to protect their families and to have some sense of safety,” the show is a reflection of current economic times, Mosbacher said.

“Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights,” PW’s second show of the semester, was originally written by Gertrude Stein as the libretto for an opera. It has now been adapted into a rock opera — complete with original music — by Gupta.

It is based on the story of Doctor Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. But in this version of the story, the doctor trades his soul for electricity, Gupta said.

The play also deals with the idea of multiple, fragmented femininities, a common theme in Stein’s work, said Colella, who is directing the show. In most productions, a single female character is played by multiple women.

In recent seasons, “PW has been doing a lot of fairly realistic, structured plays,” Gupta said. This year, “there’s sort of this collective urge to do something really experimental.”

“We felt very reactionary at the end of last year,” Collela said.

“That was also reflected in a palpable lack of enthusiasm for people proposing projects” that were not exciting or new, added Sean Patrick McGowan ’12, a member of the PW board.

“Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights” is “not recognizably a play,” Colella said. The text is composed of long blocks of text, unbroken by stage direction or dialogue with other characters. It will be performed with the audience — who will stand for the entire run of the show, roughly an hour — “inside the stage,” with everything happening around them, she said. Despite this, Colella said she hopes “to maintain accessibility.”

The theater arts and performance studies department will begin its season at Leeds Theater with “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” by Moises Kaufman, which will run Sept. 29-Oct. 2 and Oct. 6-9.

“Gross Indecency” is about “how the artist is pitted against society,” said Kym Moore, the director and an assistant professor of theater arts and performance studies. It is a dramatization of Wilde’s trials for the crime of “indecency” when he was suspected of practicing homosexuality. Moore said she hopes the play will be “part of a larger conversation about gay rights and human rights.”

After viewing the history of Wilde’s private life, theater-goers can see one of the playwright’s earliest, more controversial plays, “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” running in Leeds Theater November 3-6 and 10-13.

“We felt like ‘Gross Indecency’ is going to contextualize this conversation on a larger level about the public and the private, about what commitment is,” Moore said. This idea of commitment and relationships — both public and private — will be a theme for the whole season, she added.

Sheila Callaghan’s “Dead City,” a retelling of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” continues the theme by looking at a woman’s relationship to her husband and a female companion, Director Alex Keegan ’12 said. The show will run in Leeds Theater Dec. 1-4.

“Dead City” is “about women who are really talking to each other … about things that spark importance to them,” Keegan said.

Last spring in “Bitches in the Upspace,” Gupta, Colella, Mosbacher and Rebecca Sigel ’11 critiqued the role of women in theater. They applied the Bechdel test — which requires that a work feature at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than men — and found, among a year of Brown shows, under an hour of stage time that passed the test.

In a sense, this semester — which showcases female directors and writers, reconsiders gender identities and lets women speak their minds — could be an antidote to the critiques presented in the show.