A Good Year Locally for Women Playwrights

Cincinnati theaters are making serious inroads against the imbalance between male and female playwrights, in several cases even premiering new scripts.

Feb 1, 2017 at 11:47 am

For several years, I’ve updated CityBeat readers about local productions of shows by female playwrights who are answering the historical dominance of men in this line of creative work. Traditionally, men have represented nearly 80 percent of the shows produced on Broadway and beyond. 

Cincinnati theaters are making serious inroads against this imbalance, in several cases even premiering new scripts. The Playhouse in the Park continues its commitment to launching new plays, and under Artistic Director Blake Robison the emphasis has been on works by women. Coming up are the theater’s 73rd and 74th world premieres, and they are two more scripts by women.

First is Arlitia Jones’ Summerland (Saturday-March 5). It’s a story inspired by William H. Mumler, a “spirit photographer” of the 1860s who claimed that his photos showed haunting images of the dead. In the provocative script, Mumler believes in the spirits who materialize in his photos, but an investigator challenges him. 

Jen Silverman, not yet 30, is an up-and-coming playwright. Her new play, All the Roads Home (March 25-April 23), will be staged here by a noteworthy (and equally young) director who is new to the Playhouse, the Obie Award-winning Lee Sunday Evans. It’s about three generations of women. In the 1950s, teenager Madeleine runs away to New York to become a dancer. Two decades later, her headstrong daughter rebels against the same small-town life that drove her mother away. And 30 years after that, her granddaughter travels the country as a musician, chasing a fantasy that might or might not be her own. All their stories are about growing up, chasing dreams and desires. It’s a play thoroughly rooted in the experience of women. 

The Playhouse’s season offers more works by women writers and directors. Polly Teale’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romantic novel Jane Eyre (March 11-April 8) will be on the Playhouse’s mainstage, directed by Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. (She’s staged Playhouse shows with high-powered female characters including Sex with Strangers and Venus in Fur.) The season concludes with a one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End (May 6-June 4), portraying the much beloved columnist from Dayton whose syndicated wit entertained readers for more than three decades. It’s by sisters Allison and Margaret Engel, veteran journalists from Washington, D.C.

Other Cincinnati theaters feature female writers this season: Ensemble Theatre Company’s upcoming show, When We Were Young and Unafraid (Feb. 21-March 12), is by Sarah Treem, who has been a writer for the award-winning Netflix series House of Cards. Set in 1972, her play is about a single mom, once a nurse, now running a bed and breakfast on a remote island that’s really a women’s shelter. The stories of her residents and her pasts are brought forth when a young runaway enters their lives.

Know Theatre premiered the Appalachian ghost story The Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin last fall. Currently onstage is Jenny Connell Davis’ darkly romantic drama Dragon Play (through Feb. 18), staged by Know’s Associate Artistic Director Tamara Winters. She’s also directing the world premiere of Kara Lee Corthron’s Listen for the Light this spring (April 21-May 13), a story set in 1844 involving Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith and some of his followers.

Even Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is presenting a classic by a legendary woman: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (March 24-April 15), the story of the Youngers, a working-class African-American family in 1950s Chicago. 

Gracie Gardner’s Very Dumb Kids premieres this spring at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (April 20-22), the first product of the CCM Acting program’s new play-commissioning initiative. It’s about the impact of the murder of a young journalist in India on her friends back in the U.S. The theme of living responsibly underlies their reactions. Another work informed by female perspectives, it’s the kind of writing that results from a broad spectrum of playwrights.

The increasing presence of women as writers and directors is enriching Cincinnati’s theater scene. 

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]