Five feminist plays!
March is Women’s History Month. And as the month draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time to promote feminist centered plays. To be a feminist, one doesn’t have to go to school, or do a thing, etc. In a nutshell, you basically have to believe in equal rights for all and intersectionality. Having said that, I want to make clear I’m not coming from an uneducated standpoint. I minored in Women’s Studies while earning my BA in Theater Arts, one of my theater classes included “Women, Theater and Society”, and I was a member of Radical Women for a number of years. (I no longer have time to devote to it, but I’m still in touch with them.)
As a woman, in a male dominated field, I’m often troubled about the lack of good characters to play for women, especially women over 25. Here’s my motto: men my age play Hamlet, but women my age play Gertrude! This resonates with me for another reason… today is my 40th birthday!. 😀 And I played Ophelia at 36 and again at 39, and I also played Annie Sullivan (a 20-year-old) at 36. Fuck the haters! Also, unpopular opinion… I find it troubling that people cast women in male roles willy nilly. Sometimes it works…but sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it even kills the feminist messages. When it works, I have no problem with it. But when it doesn’t, and it’s done in the name of feminism–that pisses me off. If someone is so concerned about putting on a feminist play… why not choose one that was written directly for that purpose? So without further ado, here are five high quality, entertaining, and very moving feminist plays that have something for everyone!
A Feminine Ending, by Sarah Treem
It’s a story about a female musician and the plight of women in the arts world, that being how women under represented. As the protagonist is pressured by society to put her artistic, emotional and merit needs on hold, she learns life lessons on the road less traveled, or not traveled. Her fiancé is on the brink of stardom which will change their lives, she sees her first love, and learns that her mother had aspirations of her own. These stories unfold in an authentic representation of life–something that we rarely see in scripts. The audience is taken on a journey and learns a lot about the real world. This play is an absolute breath of fresh air. Raw, honest, and above all, realistic.
Silent Sky, by Lauren Gunderson
This play tells the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, a female astronomer who lived from 1868 to 1921. Despite not being able to so much as touch a telescope, Henrietta managed to measure the light and distance of stars–which she had to do in her free time. In a time where women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them (dismissing women’s ideas is alive and well today and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter still happens, after all, women and people of color are still underrepresented in STEM) Henrietta paved the way for scientific discovery for future generations and gave zero fucks about the people who told her she couldn’t or shouldn’t. The play also paints a stark picture of the sacrifices that women are often forced to make when we follow our dreams.
Fefu and her Friends, by Maria Irene Fornes
I had a theater professor in college describe this play as something that is meant to be “‘felt’, rather than ‘understood'”. But that’s not to say the play doesn’t have a clear plot. Fefu and her group of friends are gathering at her estate to rehearse a presentation for their charity that benefits school education. The play blends realism with non-realism and also part two has four different scenes play simultaneously in different locations! Audience members are divided and taken to each scene until everyone has viewed all of them. (This is the way the play was written but it has been done so that the entire play is in one location. If you want to produce it in that way, make sure you have permission to when you get the rights. Remember, putting on a copyrighted play often has more complications that public domain plays!) With dialogue and monologues that are moving and realistic (something that in my opinion is hard to achieve as a playwright) this play highlights not only the struggle of living in a male dominated world, but also the internalized misogyny the main character has, namely when she casually says “my husband married me to have a constant reminder of how loathsome women are”. The internalized misogyny is something that is laughed off in the play at at first which I think makes the piece more powerful. Some women deny the oppression they face in a patriarchal society, until things become serious. So the question is, will they remain in that state of denial? Meanwhile the women are affected by the mysterious “judges” and the audience is taken on a haunting journey. This play is an absolute masterpiece.
The Heidi Chronicles, by Wendy Wasserstein
A classic, and a must-see for all unabashed feminists. This play highlights second wave feminism as Heidi attends and graduates college, then navigates through love life, jobs, and seeing her feminist colleagues succumb to the materialism that they once rebelled against. The play is not unkind however, it is in effect showing us the reality that many activists face. It is forgiving and nonjudgmental, while giving us closure when we see the protagonist still find a sense of continuity and fulfillment in the world as she holds onto her ideals. I appreciated the realism in this play, not only in seeing people abandon their moral compass, but in how relationships panned out for Heidi. I say you can’t go wrong with choosing this play.
Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill
“What good is a first female prime minister if it’s [Margaret Thatcher]?”, says one of the main characters in the final act. This, in a word, sums up the play, and how important it is. Before I got into feminism, I was hesitant because I was all for equal rights but my definition of “success” differs from a lot of mainstream’s definitions. I don’t wanna be a person who’s a CEO of some corrupt corporation or anything else that’s maintaining the status quo and rolling back the progress of humanity. Then I realized that’s not at all what feminism is about! Yet many venture capitalists co-opt feminism by pointing to venture capitalist women and calling them progressive. You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist and you don’t have to be a man to be anti-feminist. Calling Thatcher’s reign a win for women is like calling Ronald McDonald a proponent of veganism. Churchill’s play tackles this head on, while remaining true to one of the biggest tenants of feminism: intersectionality. Marlene and Joyce are two sisters from a working class family and a broken home. Marlene achieved “success” in her employment agency but not without maintaining the status quo–and even turns a blind eye to oppression she herself faces as a woman. This is a stark reality of life in capitalism. While blending realism with non-realism (the play starts with Marlene having dinner with long dead deceased historical figures), this play is not for the posers. It shows us what real feminism is all about, while painting an accurate depiction of different backgrounds. As a matter of fact, this is my all time favorite play and I can honestly say it saved my life. I love it so much, it inspired the name of my theater company.
If you’re looking to put on a strong feminist play, I highly recommend one of these. Rock on!