Quick, name five female playwrights.
How sad that most of us have to stop and think after the first few? Wendy Wasserstein, Lillian Hellman, Agatha Christie and…and…?) Be it on the modern circuit, where at least Yasmina Reza, Theresa Rebeck and Suzan-Lori Parks get some play, or on classic stages, where Clare Booth Luce and Zora Neale Hurston grab a now-and-then nod, distaff dramatists are traditionally overlooked.
Doing her bit to redress this injustice is Tricia McDermott, founding Artistic Director of the Airmid Theatre Company, a Long Island-based troupe dedicated to producing works by women and giving women the chance to direct, design and appear in them. Now nearing its 10th anniversary, the Airmid has staged everything from an 1883 Norwegian drama to a pair of 10th-Century German one-acts.
For their current Summer Theater Festival, being held outdoors at Nissequogue River State Park, Airmid offers two virtually unknown works: The Silver Thread (7/28-8/14), a family fable about a princess kidnapped by a goblin, and The Emperor of the Moon (7/22-8/9), a grown-up comedy about two women who try to escape from their science-minded guardian. Thread was penned in 1910 by Constance D’Arcy McKay, a suffragette who was an early advocate for children’s theater and amateur women’s drama groups. Emperor is a new musical adaptation of a 17th Century work by Aphra Behn, considered the first “professional” female playwright. “She made it possible for women to make their living writing,” notes McDermott. “And she was enormously successful. Emperor is the only play that held the stage for 90 years! Even the Fantasticks only ran 40.”
McDermott, who headed the American division of London’s Globe Theater and served as literary manager for off-Broadway’s Primary Stages, tells Pulse she hopes to make a permanent home for Airmid on the North Shore and to build it into a professional company “on the order of Long Wharf or the George Street Playhouse.” Asked if Long Island could support such a venue, McDermott admits that, because of the recession, “we had a funder pull out of the festival, so we’re doing smaller productions than we’d intended. But we shouldn’t diminish anybody because they’re long Islanders. Good art finds an audience.”
Summer Theater Festival at Nissequogue River State Park, Kings Park, July 22-Aug. 14, 2009. Information: (631) 704-2888 or airmidtheatre.org
DAVE’S NEW YORK PICKS
2009’s Tony winner for Best Musical does what seemed impossible—finding a way to put all those great songs into a story that’s no longer a complete jumble. The cast’s enthusiasm is a contact high and the first-act finale, set around a draft-card bonfire, smashes the hippies’ hedonism up against society’s demands in a way that’s immensely powerful.
WORTH A LOOK
9 to 5
Capably staged but thoroughly run-of-the-mill musical comedy, leavened by its lead trio and Marc Kudisch’s bad-guy boss. Nice to have Dolly on Broadway, though.
Not the ideal staging for this epic battle of wills, but Schiller’s melodrama doesn’t exactly get revived every five years like Gypsy, so you might want to make tracks. Talky, yes, but often a gripper.
David Lefkowitz, co-publisher of Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com), hosts the weekly radio program, Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.org) and emcees Stagebuddy.com’s Showbiz Talk Tuesdays, 7pm, at The Players Theater on MacDougal Street.