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?

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