In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Playing at Lives: Biography and Contemporary Feminist Drama RYAN CLA YCOMB In the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, a visitor can stroll the along the parade of great men, admiring the busts, standing figures, and horsed figures carved in Italian marble and other polished chunks of stone. The parade marches on in traditional style until it comes across the suffragists, a memorial to Lucretia Molt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Immediately, the visitor notices the stylistic and ideological incongruities of the suffragist memorial amidst the phalanx of polished soldiers that surrounds it: Matt, Stanton, and Anthony are incompletely carved, their bodies seemingly rising from a partially formed, seven-ton slab of marble, and rising behind them, taller than the three, is an unformed figure, the beginnings of a fourth feminist, yet to be realized. I was introduced to the statue, a gift of the National Woman's Party, by a friend of mine, herself introduced to it by a friend who insists that every young feminist she knows take a photo in front of the statue, as an image of her potential to become that as-yet-unformed fourth figure. In a sense, this sculpture is an excellent metaphor for the biographical plays examined here, as well as for the larger tradition of feminist life writing that has flourished over the last thirty years.' Like these plays, this memorial is working to represent a life through a feminist framework. That is, feminists staging biographical plays face much the same parade of great men (Shakespeare 's histories come to mind) as did Adelaide Johnson, the sculptor of this piece. Like the sculptor, feminist playwrights find the masculinist tradition of biography (constructing a life into art; see Aston, "Pam Gems" '59; Rosenthal ) problematic in its ideology and insufficient in its capacity to recover feminist lives without compromising their feminist politics. Instead, in order to claim their places in the footlights of history, feminists must find a new way to represent their own. And they have: just as these suffragists are .incompletely carved and overtly sculptural, many staged feminist biographies show Modern Drama, 47:3 (Fail 2004) 525 RYAN CLAYCOMB the process of representing a life while they present the life itself; they show their subjects in communities and not as discrete entities; and they do so in a way that makes the lives of the past a template for the lives of the present and the future. In short, like the memorial, staged feminist biographies respond to the imperative to place women in the pantheon of history but avoid the patriarchal trappings of the biographical tradition, by contextualizing and calling attention to the construction of their narratives and projecting the significance of their biographical subjects into the present and the as-yet-unformed future. If there is any significant difference between the sculpture in the Capitol Building and the feminist biographies that populate today's stage, it is in quantity: while Johnson's suffragists are the only women in a long line of "great men," plays about real-life feminists are virtually everywhere. A couple of years ago, Jennifer Ambrosino, producing director for The Theatre Conspiracy (TIC), joked that she was tired of directing plays about real people that she wanted a little fiction in her life. She was at that point directing Allison Pruitt's one-act The Trial ofSusan B. Anthony for the Source Theatre Festival here in Washington D.C., had just finished with TIC's run of Timberlake Wertenbaker's New Anatomies (a life of fin-de-siecle iconoclast Isabelle Eberhardt), and had directed Lynne Kaufman's Shooting Simone (about Simone de Beauvoir) the season before. And I had experienced the same phenomenon. As coordinator for TIC's Emerging Women Playwrights Series that summer, I read over fifty scripts from around the country, and of these, at least fifteen were biographically oriented. One of them, Jamie Pachino's "Theodora: An Unauthorized Biography," became one of our featured readings for the series. That made four biographies in two years between Ambrosino and myself, a figure that doesn't include, just in the Washington D.C. area, Studio Theatre's production of Suzan-Lori...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 525-545
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.