Thursday, June 25, 2009

Femme Fight

Am I the only one who was surprised by this intriguing study from Princeton University grad Emily Glassberg Sands that found unintentional discrimination against female playwrights — at the hands of female artistic directors, no less?

Looking back on the past New York theater season, the new plays that resonated the most with me were all written by women, Lynn Nottage's Ruined, Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw and Lisa Loomer's Distracted. And the first two were staged by theater companies whose artistic leaders are women. I also admired Annie Baker's Body Awareness and Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning God of Carnage and look forward this fall to Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy. (I caught last year's Williamstown Theatre Festival production, and it was a riot.)

When I interviewed Gionfriddo and Sara Ruhl, both agreed that women playwrights had a tougher time getting produced but, though I’m not contradicting the study’s findings, I think that were the economy as robust as it had been several years ago, Ruined would be playing on Broadway. But is it so terrible that it isn’t? The run keeps getting extended (it’s now playing through Aug. 2.

But is it so terrible that Ruined hasn’t transferred to Broadway? It’s ideally suited to Manhattan Theatre Club’s intimate 299-seat space. How much would it lose in the way of atmosphere if it ended up at the Belasco or the Lyceum? The bigger-is-always-better philosophy seems like a product of the old boys club that we should be rallying against.

As for women artistic directors giving lower scores to the plays the women had written when they thought men had scripted them, could it be that they were simply more impressed when they wouldn’t expect a man to be as insightful when it came to depicting female characters?

Of course even if this were the case, isn’t that a form of discrimination as well?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hearts for Harlequin

I seem to be running just a little bit behind whatever I do these days. It's far too late for me to comment on the spry and smart Tony Awards broadcast from two weeks ago, one of the best I've seen in years. (The cuteness of the three Billy Elliots as they accepted their Tonys was matched only by the adorableness of host Neil Patrick Harris who, dare I say it, may have even topped my all-time favorite Tony emcee, Hugh Jackman.)

And it's too late to recommend the Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949—2009 exhibit at Soho's Openhouse Gallery, in honor of the romance novel publisher's 60th anniversary, because I didn't catch it until two Fridays ago, its final day. But it was a hoot, as much from a social history perspective as an artistic one. Forget what they say about not judging a book by its cover; in the world of publishing you certainly can.

As the doctors and nurses on the covers of the novels from the '50s and '60s gave way to the more glammed-up heroes and heroines of the '60s and '70s and then to the chesty Fabio-esque cover models of the '80s, the change in cover art mirrored what was happening in the lives of the women reading these books. How appropriate that some covers from the early days of women's lib 1960s and '70s prominently featured the heroines front and center, while the men were relegated to the background. Nowadays it's not unusual for a cover to feature just the hero, and I'm certainly not sure I like what that implies. Frankly I find the quaint cover illustrations from those days much more appealing than the photographs of the finely chiseled but often generic cover models that so often grace today's novels.

My pal Connie hoped Harlequin was planning some sort of catalog or coffee table book to commemorate the exhibit, but I haven't heard anything to confirm this. If you want to catch a peek at what was, these blogs have some fine photos.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vieux from Tennessee

Attentive New York theatergoers have had more than a few opportunities to catch the little known latter-day plays of Tennessee Williams over the past few years. To varying degrees of success, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater companies have staged revivals of Small Craft Warnings, Out Cry and now, Vieux Carre presented by the Pearl Theatre Company.

They get a lot of runners on base, even if they don't always bring them home. Still, ambitious theatergoers looking for challenges and rewards might want to check it out. It's also your last change to see a Pearl production at the company's longtime 's the last stand for the Pearl at their East Village home before a the company moves uptown next season.