For Your Consideration

Want to see the work of women playwrights? How about just a play with women in leading roles? Or dealing with issues of interest to women? It’s not as easy as you might think.

According to a 2009 Princeton study, well under a quarter of plays produced nationwide were written by women. And in 2011, women were glaringly absent from the Tony Awards’ 13 nominees for best new play.

One place in Kansas City where plays by women regularly get produced is the Unicorn Theatre, where Producing Artistic Director Cynthia Levin has long made the issue a priority. “You have to deliberately look at these things to make them fair,” she says.
Levin, who is solely responsible for selecting the Unicorn’s annual menu of shows, consistently tries to feature a mix of male and female playwrights, as well as roles that are equally distributed across genders as well as cultures. “You want a varied experience,” Levin explains.

This season at the Unicorn should be no exception. For 2011-2012, midtown’s purveyor of “bold new plays” devotes nearly half its season to female playwrights both renowned and lesser-known. The season offers local — and in one, case, world — premieres of three women-written scripts: Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, Lia Romeo’s Hungry and Sherie Rene Scott’s Everyday Rapture (co-written with Dick Scanlan).

God of Carnage
First up is the latest from Yasmina Reza, who, despite her sex, happens to be one contemporary theater’s most celebrated – and produced – writers. A Jewish French actress-turned-playwright and novelist, Reza’s satirical mastery earned her the prestigious Molière award in 1987 for her first play, Conversations After a Burial. She also translated Kafka’s Metamorphosis for Roman Polanski.

Her own 1994 play, Art, which regards a heated argument about a painting, has been translated into 30 languages. The Unicorn staged it a decade ago.

In 2009, Reza won Olivier and Tony awards for God of Carnage. Like Art, it centers on a discussion of dearly-held ideas – this time pertaining to parenthood.

The fuss erupts as two couples meet to talk about a dispute between their children. The premise may seem pedestrian, but Reza has a way of taking a sitcom setting to deep, dark, yet still funny, places. As Levin muses, “You think you know what it’s going to be about, but you don’t.”

God of Carnage is co-produced with the Kansas City Actors Theatre and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Theatre department. See the show on the Jerome Stage October 22 through November 13 (with previews October 19-21).

Hungry marks the second world premiere in as many years at the Unicorn for 30-year-old East Coast playwright Lia Romeo. In the meantime, she has racked up accolades at theater festivals and had her work produced on various national stages. She also published a book, 11,002 Things to Be Miserable About, which she co-wrote with her brother.

Romeo’s connection with Kansas City began when Levin fell in love with her script Green Whales at a workshop at the Kennedy Center. From there, Levin helped Romeo develop the play through additional workshops and the full-blown production. “A year later, we’re doing it all over again,” Levin says.

Whereas Green Whales is about a philosophy professor who resembles a teenager, Hungry is a story of actual teenagers — female, weight-conscious, boy-crazy teenagers. Although female preoccupation with food is a major theme (the show opens with a bathroom vomit scene), Romeo inserts some magic realism — in the form of a murderous Minotaur — into what could otherwise be a recipe for an after-school special. “She has an uncanny sense of taking strange, potentially difficult situations and making them comic,” Levin says.

The show runs March 3-18, 2012, (previews February 29, March 1 and 2) on the Jerome Stage.

Everyday Rapture
When the curtain rises on Everyday Rapture next spring, it will be the first time that another actress has performed Sherie Rene Scott’s one-woman, semi-autobiographical musical.

That it’s happening so close to where the playwright grew up is almost too perfect. Scott and co-writer Dick Scanlan crafted Everyday Rapture as a fictionalized account of Scott’s own journey from life in a Mennonite Topeka family to a career on Broadway. The show was nominated in the Best Actress and Best Book categories of the 2010 Tony Awards.

Experience Everyday Rapture May 19 through June 3, 2012, (previews May 16-18) on the Mainstage.


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