Even plays written by men that are “particularly masculine and talk about issues particular to men, are never called ‘men’s plays,’ ” she added.
On Wednesday, to draw attention to the issue of gender bias in American theater,
Chalfant and two other actors will read from works by notable female American playwrights in a program titled “History Matters/Back to the Future.” The reading is sponsored by the Women and Theatre Program of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown University.
Chalfant will be joined onstage by Maryann Plunkett, a 1987 Tony Award winner for best actress in a musical for “Me and My Girl,” and Tamara Tunie, an actress and Tony Award winner for producing 2007’s “Spring Awakening.” Joan Vail Thorne, a librettist, playwright and stage director, will direct.
The program will include scenes and monologues from nine works, including “The Old Maid,” adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel by 1935 Pulitzer Prize winner Zoë Akins; “In the Summer House” (1953), the only play by novelist Jane Bowles; and “Trouble in Mind” (1955) by pioneering African American playwright Alice Childress.
“They are all American playwrights. If one were to do the great forgotten playwrights of history, it would be a larger pantheon of women,” said Maya E. Roth, chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Georgetown University. “I’m confident the question will percolate, ‘Why don’t I know more of these playwrights?’ ”
While Thorne hopes the reading, presented in conjunction with the Women and Theatre Program’s annual conference, will highlight the issue of gender bias in theaters nationwide, she said the Washington region is “doing quite well with women playwrights.”
“The only reason we are doing the event in D.C. is because we are hooking up with a panel” at the conference being held at Georgetown, she said. “We thought the place to begin some activities toward gaining more respect for women’s playwrights is in universities, syllabi and anthologies.”
The impetus for this event “grew out of my awareness of the possibility that the current disparity between the production of men’s and women’s plays might have something to do with the terrible neglect of the illustrious women playwrights of the past,” Thorne said. “The scenes selected for the reading were chosen from plays that should occupy a significant place in the consciousness of all informed theater persons but have been largely forgotten.”
Each playwright chosen for the reading was “a well-respected and widely produced playwright in her moment,” Roth said. “But our ears have forgotten their names because they haven’t been kept active in the repertory and anthologies.”