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LETTERS TO EDITOR
CurtainUp Book Review
Women Who Write Plays
Interviews with American Dramatists
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
Alexis Greene is one of those interviewers blessed with the gift of asking intelligent questions and then letting her subjects carry the ball. She inspires trust, not just because of her reputation as a respected theater critic, but because it is instantly clear that she has done her homework before having these conversations with, to borrow from Wendy Wasserstein, twenty-seven"uncommon women."
Since few readers are likely to come to these interviews with Ms. Greene's familiarity, I suppose I should begin with what is at once a caveat and a special plus. While the net cast includes some well-known playwrights like Pulizer Prize winner, Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), many of these playwrights' works will not be all that familiar to any but theater aficionados. Thus since many of these conversations are about specific plays, those who haven't seen or read the work being discussed may feel somewhat at sea. On the other hand, the discussions are of sufficient general interest to lessen that sense of exclusion — besides, most of the plays mentioned have been published and enjoy regional productions so if the book leads you to see and read some of these plays at a later date , this drawback might well be considered a plus.
The format of the book is simple and conducive to browsing. The interviews are arranged alphabetically by author (from Lynne Alvarez to Wakako Yamanchi). Each features a black and white photo plus a one-page biographical sketch that includes a list of published plays with a sentence about their content and gives the date and locale of the interviews. Interestingly while the dates of plays and interviews are included, the writers' birth dates are not. (According to Ms. Greene, some of the women were not forthcoming on thiss so, in the interest of consistency, she excluded this data throughout — something of a commentary on our youth oriented culture generally and women's persistent skittishness about revealing their age. As the interviews progressed, most of the women did reveal their ages).
The interviews themselves are done like a play script, alternating A.G. (Greene) questions with the interview subject's comments. As the experienced play reader soon learns to ignore the format of the speaker's name preceding dialogue, so you quickly get the sense of simply being a third party to a free-ranging dialogue.
While the questions differ from interview to interview, there are obviously some that serve as a unifying leitmotif. The result is a richly diverse group portrait, revealing a remarkable number of writers who began as poets and a not surprisingly large number who have not been able to make a living writing for the stage.
The free-ranging conversational style catches some fascinating comments on translation, different types of writing and, in one instance, the role of the dramaturg. To sum up, this is a valuable compendium. It's appeal is I suppose limited to theatrical students, and particularly women — Off and Off-Off-Broadway more than Broadway.
While I appreciate Ms. Greene's letting the interviews as well as the writers speak for themselves, I think a few explanatory editorial parenthetical notes would have been helpful; for example, the reference to Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw in the interview with The Five Lesbian Brothers. Also, while the book includes an appendix with a list of the subjects' published works, I think a paragraph excerpted from a play, perhaps at the top or bottom of each biography, would have given at least a flavor of each woman's writing style.
In a less cautious book publishing climate, one could count on an biannually updated editions of this invaluable compilations to add dramatists who were for one reason or another omitted. When I asked who she would like to have included, Ms. Greene mentioned Alice Tuan, Caridad Svich, Mary Zimmerman and Marsha Norman. To this reviewer, Susan Lori Parks and Rebecca Gilman also come to mind, as well as Melissa James Gibson whose [sic] (Our Review} came into the spotlight this season, after this book went to press. Having done a few reference books myself, however, I know that this is likely to have to serve for quite some time as the only book in which you'll find this many contemporary women playwrights having their say about their lives, their influences and their work.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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