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THE "WOMAN" PLAYWRIGHT ISSUE On May 1, 1983, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story, "Women Playwright: New Voices in the Theater" by Mel Gussow. It mentioned a number of contemprary American women playwrights (a "new generation of dramatists"), but focussed on Marsha Norman, whose play 'night Mother had just won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her photograph also appeared on the cover of the magazine. Reaction to the article in the theatre community was immediate and intense ; especially among women. Gussow's generalizations, acts of commission and omission, his lack of historical and critical perspective, brought on an avalanche of opinions, feelings, and alternative views. PAJ invited a number of people to respond to the issues raised in the article, and to pursue other issues related to women in the arts. Some of these respondents address the article itself; most take off on the idea of women and playwriting and run in their own directions. We hope these responses will continue and expand the dialogue in many new areas of thought, namely, how the culture perceives women as artists, problems unique to women working in theatre, the definition of a "women's aesthetic" and "feminist play," new forms evolving to express women's concerns, and politics in the cultural establishment. Gayle Austin 87 Colette Brooks it is evident, upon reading Mel Gussow's well-intentioned article, that progress has been made over the past ten centuries: women are now characterized first as writers and only secondly as nuns, saints, and such. Beyond this, perfunctory note must be made of the fact that these writers all share certain socio-economic affinities, and that through pieces such as his, the Times sustains reputations it largely served to create in the first place. All this aside, my response to the piece is three-fold, and I will confine my comments to American work. I believe that this kind of consecration, capped as it is by celebrity, Pulitzers, and other earthly blandishments, feeds upon and reinforces that which is least worthy in our larger culture; that these impulses find baneful (and gender-neutral) reflection in our so-called serious drama; and, finally, that the theatrical work being done by women that is most imaginative was hardly alluded to in the article. None of this, as it were, is news, but it bears repeating every so often. Crimes of the Heart and 'night, Mother, to cite the plays featured most prominently in the Times piece, are relatively undistinguished additions to a line of works (some quite wonderful) that have been ordained as American "classics," and their reception as such is inexplicable if seen apart from the service they do the national psyche. 'night, Mother, particularly, shares the characteristics that seem to constitute, specifics aside, the enduring criteria of such classics. In various works by American dramatists as disparate as O'Neill, Williams, Miller, Albee, or Wilder, one finds repeated evocations of loss and isolation. The central characters of these plays,.all ordinary folk, are introspective, wounded, and self-involved, prone to soliloquize even as they ostensibly speak to others on stage. This lack of connection to other characters (sometimes emphasized through the protagonist's running conversations with ghosts and others from beyond the grave) has obvious roots in a culture that celebrates the drama of the individual life and has no sense whatsoever of human community, or of what it might mean to work towards such an achievement. That these dramas transpire within the confines of the family, without reference to a larger historical or social reality such as one finds in the works of Chekhov, for instance, only accentuates the peculiar, indigenous nature of this isolation. In classic American dramas the character is conceived only as a psychological entity, and conflict occurs solely within the individual psyche; the family thus serves simply as the public forum in which this strife is externalized. (Only in America is the polis so private.) In these plays speech is action, and the aim of such action is self-expression, seen as its own end. This faith in the power of expression to redeem misery and disappointment is reflected in our valorization of these plays and...