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Strong Women in Theatre -- Three NYC Stage Productions Showcase Female Playmakers in April

By Richard Ward

Desha
  Deshja Driggs Hall

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, several NYC theatre productions will continue to keep the spotlight on both historical and contemporary females. New York Cool caught up with three stage artists as they prepare for upcoming shows with a definite feminine focus.

Tanya Klein – Artistic Director/Writer/Director
Outdoing the Jones's
Written and directed by Tanya Klein
April 7-30 (previews begin April 4th)
303 West 42nd Street, 3rd Floor, NYC
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $15
Reservations: (212) 316-0400

Creative Artists Laboratory opens its ninth season with the world premiere of Outdoing the Jones’s, written and directed by Artistic Director Tanya Klein. The play follows a marriage spiraling out of control as the couple battles mounting debt, forcing them to choose between their children and their possessions. The cast includes Ali Baynes, Cassandra Cooke, Michael Jalbert, and Brian Seibert.

Outdoing the Jones’s depicts a world in which achievement is measured by the largeness of your house, happiness by the size of your bank account, and success by the amount of possessions you own. "In other words, our very own world,” explains Klein. “This play takes on the choices we have made as a society through the prism of the choices made by the prototypical suburban couple. Sandra and John are caught up in the rat race of acquiring the newest must-have items."

The play's protagonist, Sandra, has the drive to be perfect in every aspect of her life. Klein relates, “This drive is one that many women seem to have. Her quest for perfection leads her to ignore her own needs in favor of everybody else's needs to an extent that she loses her own sense of self. The show offers strong female role models for the audience in the sense that the women in the play are the ones that take action and stand up for what they believe in.”

As a playwright, Klein finds it very easy to write for contemporary actresses. “There are many strong actresses out there. You'll never run into casting difficulties with women. More often than not you'll have the opposite problem -- too many choices! That's not necessarily the case with men. The male/female ratio of characters in most plays is 70/30 or 60/40. In other words, you've got a lot more male characters than female ones in a majority of works. At the same time, the ratio of male and female actors is about 40/60. There are more female actors out there than male actors. I'd say if you want to make your life easy -- write for women.”

Klein’s work usually focuses on story and issues, and her protagonists often tend to be female. “It's easier and feels more natural to me -- being a woman -- to have a female protagonist than a male protagonist.”

She offers the following advice to other women trying to make their mark in theatre, particularly as a writer and director: “I would offer them the same advice I'd have for men: Just keep on doing it!”


Joan McCready – Actress/Founding Member of the Lyric Theatre
Coole Lady
Written and directed by Sam McCready
April 20-30
Theatre 315, 315 West 47th Street, NYC
Wed. through Sat. at 8:00 p.m., with Sat. matinees at 4:30 p.m.
(plus an added show Mon., April 25th at 8 p.m.)
Tickets: $20, students and seniors $15
Reservations: (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com

Coole Lady is a solo show about Irish playwright, poet and political firebrand Lady Augusta Gregory, presented by NYC's Handcart Ensemble (on the web at www.handcartensemble.org ).


Lady Gregory of Coole Park founded the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1904, along with W. B. Yeats. The solo show will be performed by Belfast Lyric Theatre alumna Joan McCready and written/directed by her husband, Sam McCready. Having met and married as founding members of the Lyric, the McCreadys have spent four decades together producing, directing, and performing the dramatic masterworks of their native country.

Actress McCready provides some insight into the background of the character and her history: “The play is about an Irishwoman who was born in 1852, married a wealthy, aristocratic landowner, and founded a theatre, the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She administered that theatre and promoted an entire literary movement, the Celtic Renaissance. The woman was a successful, witty playwright, poet and the author of prose versions of Irish myths; at the same time she managed a two thousand acre estate called Coole Park. She fought authority for what she believed in and endured great tragedy in her life, principally the untimely death of her only son. She is an excellent role model for modern audiences. Lady Gregory functioned in a man’s world, using a range of personal skills; indeed, she used both feminine and masculine traits. She was a highly intelligent woman, a caring, gracious hostess, a generous patroness, and a discreet and trusted friend.”

Lady Gregory is not widely known outside her native Ireland, and it is gratifying to Ms. McCready that she can share her story with a range of audiences both in Europe and the U.S. “Her complex personality intrigues the audience as much as the political and social history of Ireland in which she played a role. Hers is a story of survival in the midst of many prejudices--against women, well-to-do aristocrats and anyone with associations with the British crown. To all of her writing and her management of the theatre, to her dealings with famous writers and the tenants on her estate, she brought humanity and rare generosity.”

Joan and her husband, Sam, helped found Belfast’s Lyric Theatre as a memorial to the Irish poet and playwright, W. B. Yeats. Joan relates, “Working closely on Yeats’s drama, I became aware of Lady Gregory and always wanted to know more about her and her work. That she was a woman intensified my interest and yet her work was obscured by the reputation of Yeats and other Irish playwrights like J. M. Synge and Sean O’Casey.”

After the McCreadys marriage in 1962, Joan gave up playing leading roles at the Lyric to devote herself to raising a family. “I taught for many years, but on my recent retirement from the classroom, I have had the great privilege and good fortune to return to the stage, notably in the plays of Yeats and Samuel Beckett. Having long expressed the desire to play Lady Gregory, my husband wrote this one-woman play for me as a fortieth wedding anniversary gift--an act of extraordinary generosity and an expression of his deep love.”

She continues, “The play has not only enabled me to use all the acting skills of my youth and to connect with the rich experiences I have had as a wife, mother, teacher and friend, but also to explore many parts of myself in a full, meaningful way.”

To young actors the actress passes along this sage advice: “Work at your skills; what you learn now will never leave you. Watch, listen, and observe at all times. This is the raw material you use in creating the character. This characterization of Lady Gregory is based not only on extensive reading about her and her world, but also on observed behavior in many older women who have been role models for me. The best advice I’ve ever had from a director – my husband – was ‘First, find the feet of the character, both literally and metaphorically.’ ”


 

Deshja Driggs Hall
TWWTC Co-Founder/Actress
Embracing the Undertoad
Written by Robin Rice Lichtig, directed by Sherry Teitelbaum
April 26-May 7
Chashama, 217 E. 42nd Street, NYC
Tues.-Sat. at 8:00 p.m., Sat. matinee at 3:00 p.m.
(Special Opening Night/ Formal Cocktail Party April 26th, tickets $25.00)
Tickets: $15.00 at door, $12.00 advance
Reservations: (212) 502-8630 or www.smarttix.com.

This Woman’s Work Theatre Company will be presenting Embracing the Undertoad by Robin Rice Lichtig from April 26-May 7, 2005. Three women struggle for love, peace and safe passage in this full-length play, a 2004 Jane Chambers Award finalist in an earlier incarnation.

The show examines the relationship between Aggie, a waitress, and Madeline, a writer, as their quiet, focused life is interrupted by Aggie’s sister, Bella, one snowy night. The women confront their pasts and mutual futures together in the midst of revelations and loss. This gripping play gracefully embodies TWWTC’s mission of producing works by emerging female playwrights and offering strong roles for women and positive opportunities for other theatre artists. Directed by Sherry Teitelbaum, the play stars Kate Cox, Deshja Driggs Hall and Candace Reid. For further information, visit http://this-womans-work.tripod.com.

Hall states, “The women in the audience will find themselves relating a little bit of themselves in each character. Each woman goes through her own unique journey, and comes out the other side a much stronger, wiser person. This kind of story can give an audience a sense of courage, that when they walk out of the theatre, can hopefully apply to their own life.”

The play features strong female characters, and Hall was determined to find her character’s strengths when approaching her role. “I would ask myself, ‘What is the character good at, what great things have they done for others, who loves them...?’ Every one has their weaknesses. Weakness is simple. Women in our society have gotten so good at pinpointing every last thing wrong with themselves. If only we approached our life the way we can with a character. We would all feel so much better about ourselves. Portraying a strong female is a refreshing and rewarding experience, and always a nice escape.”

This Woman's Work Theatre Company was created by Hall and Kate Cox three years ago. “We decided it was time to make the work come to us. As actors, we became increasingly frustrated with the caliber of roles being offered to women in theatre. We were ready to start something, not only for ourselves, but for female playwrights and the rest of the artistic community. TWWTC'S mission is to give voice to female playwrights by supporting their work with a full production. We aim to encourage playwrights to progress by providing them with artistic recognition and the chance to work with fellow artists on development.”

Hall suggests that women trying to make their mark in theatre be prepared for the challenging career choice. “No matter what aspect of the theatre a woman is trying to make their mark in, I do believe that patience, perseverance, and a true belief in yourself will get you the furthest. As cliché and corny as it sounds, you just can't give up. Sit down tonight and make a list of your strengths. Know that you can make it happen... and it will!”

 


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