Louise Page, whose "Real Estate" is playing at the Kreeger Theater, is a young woman on the move. She flew in from England recently to see a performance of her play here and rehearsals of another, "Salonika," in New York, where it will be performed at the Public Theater, giving her two U.S. openings in three weeks.
At 29 she has written 11 plays, starting as an undergraduate at Birmingham University, and she attributes her success to luck and the women's movement. "I got lucky breaks because for a time it was fashionable to do plays by women," she said. "You become the flavor of the month."
But Page was always precocious, it seems, writing her first play at age 11 and her first, and so far only, novel at the age of 12. ("Three dreadful volumes called 'Victoria Their Queen.' It was really an adolescent story of crushes.") But she said the real reason she succeeded was that she did badly in grammar school and at one point was in a remedial English class. "I was jolly well going to show them," she said.
In each play Page gives herself "something to solve" and tends to look for topics that concern her. "Tissue" is about breast cancer and euthanasia, "Golden Girl" about a women's relay team, and "Falklands Sound" about the 1982 battle over the Falkland Islands. "Real Estate," she said, grew out of her interest in mother-daughter relationships, which she also explored in its predecessor, "Salonika." Her next play will be about "what happens in the north of England, where unemployment is 18 1/2 percent."
It also concerns the subject of female "ambition," which she said is a dirty word in England. She describes herself as a "feminist socialist."
At the same time, she said, "I don't like plays about subject matter . . . got sick of contemporary drama that dealt with issues and not emotions." Those who have read or seen "Real Estate" might find this sentiment strange from an author whose characters speak so tersely and guardedly that their emotions are hard to discern.
Page, who was wearing a rumpled suit and sweater with pink-and-white striped tights and high-button boots, believes firmly in the practical world. For example, she said Shakespeare's plays were not meant to last longer than 2 1/2 hours, because they began at 2 in the afternoon and it was dark by 4:30. She herself often writes in the evening, because phone rates are cheaper in the morning and that's when the telephone is most likely to interrupt her. One reason she was attracted to writing for the theater, she said, is that she does not need a mastery of grammar.
She works entirely on commission now -- but before you budding playwrights envy her subsidized labor, consider this: Theater economics in Britain are now such that playwrights are essentially restricted to six characters and one set. Page was elated recently to get approval to work on a musical with eight characters and four musicians, which she said is "phenomenal."
"Sometimes I think I'd like to take a year off and just knit and sew in the country," she said. "There are times when I feel very guilty to be working in theater, that I'm not doing something more positive. But then I think, what could I do that is more positive? If I can take an issue like the way food aid is misused and make a play out of it . . . Writers can't change the world -- all they can hope to do is act as catalysts. If you can make one person think one thought remotely differently, then you've done something."
She has periods of deciding never to write again, she said. But then she gets an idea, and . . . Now she has enough work to last through the next two years.