April 21, 2008

Why Women Need to Support Women Artists: Crooked at the Women's Project

I'm embarrassed to admit that before last week I had never been to a show at the Women's Project, a 30-year-old feminist theatre company based in NY dedicated to presenting theatre by and/or about women. But I remedied my significant oversight and I hope all New Yorkers --both men and women -- who are interested in challenging theatre will also take the time out to visit the Women's Project which is presenting Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Liz Diamond.

I don't want to give anyone the impression that these 90 minutes are easy and light. They are not. They are tough and challenging and full of many different issues, maybe too many (feminism, faith, stigmata, outcast teenage girls, the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters, mental illness) but after processing the play you kind of amazed at how Trieschmann was able to construct the whole thing.

The play is about Laney (Cristin Milioti)a 14-year-old young woman who has the imagination of a person who doesn't fit in anywhere, and whose body is revolting against her causing a painful hunchback called dystonia. She meets the innocent and maybe mentally challenged Maribel (Carmen M. Herlihy, in a fantastic performance) when she moves down to her mother's hometown in Alabama. Maribel is a believer. She believes that Jesus is channeled through her, and Laney is so desperate to believe anything (since her feminist mother doesn't believe in anything and hoping that maybe Jesus could help her and her institutionalized father) that she gets sucked into Maribel's world.

Showing awkward and messy young women is not something very common in the theatre. They yell and hurt each other and nothing is neat. Laney and her mom Elise (Betsy Aidem), also fight ferociously. Neither of their lives are turning out as expected, and Elise never imagined being back in her father's house in the southern community she escaped as a young woman, and she is bitter and disappointed. But mother and daughter do have each other and that's one of the things that comes through in the end.

Julie Crosby took over as the artistic director of the Women's Project two years ago. She is an experienced theatrical professional and clearly represents a new generation in feminist theatrical leadership (wonder how many others could qualify and feminist theatrical leaders?) Her ultimate goal is to put the need to have a theatre like the Women's Project out of business, but she knows she has a long way to go. "Things have gotten better but we're still at 20% of plays produced professionally across the nation and I find that 30 years later that figure is appalling."

So just like with films, women need to step up and support female theatrical artists. We're already going to the theatre. Women make up 63% of the Broadway audience and 66% of the Broadway ticket buyers (don't have the off-Broadway numbers), yet I would venture to say that many have not been to the Women's Project. Crosby believes that there is an economic disparity holding back producers from signing up plays by women and/or directed by women. "There is a sense that the large venues - Broadway and off-Braodway- that the work of women is not economically viable." Sound familiar?

Crosby sums the whole problem up perfectly: "We don't go to see a play written by Tony Kushner and say that it's a play for men, but we tend to do that with women. It's like with the chick flick. They're not women's issues -- they're everyone's issues."

Purchase tickets here: Crooked Tickets