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Hot News

'The Count' reveals a continued drought for female playwrights
Study results presented in San Diego show slow progress toward
By James Hebert | noon July 21, 2015

Catching up on some news from the national conference of the Dramatists Guild of America, which took place in San Diego over the weekend:

The conference served as the forum for the release of "The Count," a research project into the demographics of the playwrights whose work has been produced at regional theaters around the country over the past three seasons.

The Count is the brainchild of the playwrights Marsha Norman and Julia Jordan, both of whom helped present the findings to a full house at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. The project is funded by the Lilly Awards (which honor female dramatists) and the Dramatists Guild.

And the key results:

• Just 22 percent of the plays produced during the study period were by female writers. (Jordan said that actually was an improvement over a previous, less comprehensive study that put the figure at 15%.)

• About 62 percent of the works were by white American males.

• Productions by writers of color constituted just 12 percent of the works; white American females of color made up only 3.4 percent.

Norman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of "'night, Mother" as well as the books to such musicals as "The Secret Garden" and "The Color Purple," said in her keynote speech before the full results were released: "We lose the voices of women over and over again."

She added that despite the kind of reasoning often heard for why more women writers aren't produced ("not enough female-written plays" has been among the most prominent), there's actually only one explanation: "Artistic directors and producers choose not to do them."

One writer who has battled her way into getting her plays produced is Lisa Kron, who made a bit of history barely a month ago: She and composer Jeanine Tesori became the first female team to win a Tony Award for best original score (honoring their work on the musical "Fun Home"). Kron also won for best book.

Speaking after the results were released, Kron says the ongoing research has "really galvanized my thinking around this issue," and that when the numbers first became clear to her, "my head exploded."

One oddity of The Count: It also included a breakdown of female-written plays in various cities around the country. (Chicago was tops at 36 percent.) But while both Kansas City and Berkeley were included in that tally, San Diego was not -- even though the conference's host city is home to two of the most prominent regional theaters in the country, La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe.

San Diego is actually one of relatively few cities in the country that has multiple League of Resident Theatres companies. (Berkeley and Kansas City each have one.)
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from THE BOSTON GLOBE - July 15, 2015
by Jeffrey Gantz

It’s lion vs. Christian in Nora Theatre’s ‘Saving Kitty’

A.R. Sinclair Photography

Alexander Cook and Jennifer Coolidge in “Saving Kitty.”
By Jeffrey Gantz Globe Correspondent July 15, 2015

CAMBRIDGE — The time is now, the place is a Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan, and the game is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” as Kate and Huntley wait to see what kind of prospective husband their only daughter, Kitty, is bringing home. They’d be OK, they aver, with a black son-in-law. Paul, however, turns out to be an evangelical Christian from Virginia, and that has Kate, at least, wondering whether Kitty doesn’t need saving from her intended and his church.

Marisa Smith’s comedy, which premiered at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in 2012, was a little fluffy in its original incarnation, but it’s been improved since, and the Nora Theatre Company production at Central Square Theater is so beautifully directed, acted, and presented that you could mistake the play for Noël Coward.

The good news starts with Steven Royal’s extravagant set, which conveys the opulence of an Upper East Side flat: a foyer as well as a sitting room, a creditable Manhattan skyline outside the picture windows, chair-rail molding everywhere, elegant furniture (including a leather ottoman), a sideboard with high-end alcohol, lots of modern art, and an oil portrait, pointedly lit by John R. Malinowski, that looks just like Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, the actress who plays Kitty. Barbara Douglass’s costume palette encompasses both Victoria’s Secret lingerie and a bright blue burqa.

As they wait for Kitty and Paul to arrive, Kate and Huntley sample a 20-year-old Bordeaux (“A hint of pencil lead”) and debate whether Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte has the darker complexion. Huntley is the director of public information at the United Nations; Kate played town kleptomaniac Mary Davenport on the TV soap “As the World Turns.” They’re concerned for their daughter: Dartmouth graduate Kitty is the producer of a TV news program, and Kate thinks she should have her own show, “like Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric.”

The first act of “Saving Kitty” — the play runs 2½ hours with one intermission — presents Paul as an infomercial for evangelicals, who, he explains, are not all fundamentalists. Paul has a PhD in education from UCLA, he believes in evolution, and his church has named him principal of a school it’s opening in the Bronx. Still, that doesn’t stop Kate from coming at him like a lion eyeing an early Christian. She swivels between hugely intelligent and weirdly obtuse, but she’s “on stage” every second, and when she calls former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket” or asks what a vegan is, you wonder whether it’s not all part of an act.

It’s a demanding role, in any case, and Massachusetts native Jennifer Coolidge, best known for her appearances in the “American Pie” and “Legally Blonde” film franchises, does full justice to it. Nora artistic director Lee Mikeska Gardner, who helms this production, gives her plenty of room, and Coolidge takes it, displaying superb comic timing when, for example, the burqa comes off and she says, “I’m born again!”

Her three costars hold their own. Alexander Cook offers a professorial, laptop-obsessed Huntley whose mind seems perpetually at the office — where he has a secret. Cook also does a mean pileated-woodpecker call. Barnett-Mulligan’s perky, giddy, eyelash-batting Kitty is totally taken with herself in a totally infectious way. And Lewis D. Wheeler’s Paul is a model of open-mindedness and Southern charm, unfazed by Kate’s most outrageously loaded questions. “Saving Kitty” may preach tolerance in religion, but its real subject is relationships, where tolerance is a saving grace.

Stage Review

Saving Kitty

Play by Marisa Smith

Directed by

Lee Mikeska Gardner

Set, Steven Royal. Lights, John R. Malinowski. Costumes, Barbara Douglass.

Presented by

Nora Theatre Company

At: Central Square Theater, Cambridge, through Aug. 2. Tickets: $15-$74. 866-811-4111, www.centralsquare theater.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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