Vive la Sisterhood

by Leticia Gonzalez

I’m sitting in my chair humming along to “Fight Song” and I have never been more ready to watch some badass women take names and kick ass. The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson, produced by Something Something Theatre, is a compelling story about the French revolution and sisterhood. They had me all up in my feelings. 

Dawn McMillan as Marianne Angelle, Samantha Severson as Olympe de Gouges, Whitney Woodcock as  Marie Antoinette, and Grace Otto as Charlotte Corday.

Dawn McMillan as Marianne Angelle, Samantha Severson as Olympe de Gouges, Whitney Woodcock as Marie Antoinette, and Grace Otto as Charlotte Corday. Photo Courtesy of The Something Something Theatre.

The scene starts with heads rolling. Almost quite literally until playwright Olympe De Gouges, portrayed by Samantha Severson, immediately decides that that is no way to start a play! Thank goodness for that! While the opening moments are nothing but dramatic, the play is, in fact, a comedy. I am in awe of Gunderson’s ability to write about the Reign of Terror and Madame Guillotine with a comical twist. However, this is not a one note play. Beneath the jokes and jabs, there are notes and moments to remind us that their lives are at stake. There is a striking moment when we get to see Madame Guillotine do her part. The combination of the lights, movement, and sounds are impactful. The moment is more abstract than explicit, but nonetheless I cringed. 

At first, I was baffled, because even though the play takes place during the French Revolution, the dialogue is modern. The sassy and playful banter among the four women is fun and refreshing. The wordplay and unexpected twists and turns kept me on my toes. Also, there were moments when they broke the fourth wall and engaged with the audience. As a result I felt even more connected to the women on stage due to the moment of mutual acknowledgment. 

Joan O’ Dwyer did a marvelous job selecting a cohesive ensemble. Each actress brought their character to life. Whitney Woodcock, who portrayed a credulous Marie Antoinette is hilarious. Her line delivery was on point. Samantha captures the formidable journey of Olympe as she decides her role in the revolution. Dawn MacMillan captured the badass passionate essence of Marianne Angelle. I particularly enjoyed the way she described her husband. She painted a picture of him that left me wondering, “Does he have a brother?” My favorite character was Charlotte Corday, portrayed by Grace Otto. There’s a moment where Charlotte reveals to Marianne that she is afraid. It’s a tender and awe-striking moment when one sees a strong person at their most vulnerable. It’s a gift to share one’s vulnerability as it is a gift to care for it. The intimacy between them is palpable as Marianne comforts Charlotte. They demonstrate what they want: sisterhood. 

This story is one for the books. It’s bold because it’s herstory. How often have we accepted history as truth without really recognizing that history itself is not only biased but has misconceptualized women? In this play, women reclaim their stories- their own person. We see the goddesses in them as well as their humanity. These four women inspire, empower, challenge, and hold each other accountable. Well-behaved women rarely make history, however, how many women that make history are overlooked or villainized? While these things did not occur in real life, the play acquaints us with four unapologetic women who have impacted and shaped history.

Remember when Wonder Woman came out? I don’t know about you, but when I left the cinema, I could have kicked anyone’s ass. When I left the theater last night, I felt empowered. I am grateful that Something Something Theatre exists in our community and appreciate their intention to produce plays by women for everyone. All of their plays this season are written by women and more than half are directed by women. My only qualm is that I wish that several of the playwrights had been women of color. Following the words of Sojourner Truth “And ain’t I a woman?”.

Don’t forget the cookies because The Revolutionists are bringing the tea. The show runs from September 12th – 29th at City High School’s Center for Collaborative Learning on 37 E. Pennington. All shows are at 7:30 PM with the exception of Sunday whose shows are at 2 PM. General admission is $25, however there are discounts available for seniors/students/military/teachers. They can be bought online at somethingsomethingtheatre.com. Have ten or more friends who need a proper herstory lesson? Gather them all up to see the show the same night for only $15 per ticket!

Parity or Better, but Usually Better

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

Coffee, representation on the stage, and really good plays with Something Something Theatre Company’s founding artistic director Joan O’Dwyer and founding director Whitney Morton Woodcock.

by Leigh Moyer

Something Something LogoSomething Something Theatre brands itself as theatre by women for everyone. Their mission is “Parity or better,” founding Director Whitney Morton Woodcock explained over coffee. “So fifty percent or better, but we usually have more than fifty percent of our season written by female playwrights.”

This mindset started with their first season – not as a fluke, but also not exactly on purpose – driven instead by feminism and the realization that there was a lot of good work that was too often overlooked. It started when three fierce women, Joan O’Dwyer, Whitney Morton Woodcock, and Esther Almazán, saw a gap in the Tucson theatre community that became their niche. “There are just so many plays written by women, and women are really finding their voice right now. And they’re young women and they’re brilliant,” Joan O’Dwyer gushed, “And they’re not just writing about homely things, they’re writing about war and injustices to women and women in different countries and their experiences which nobody has ever heard before and I just love that.”

I have to say, I agree with her. But that doesn’t make doing theatre by women easy. While it was a woman who was the most-produced playwright in the United States in the 2017-2018 season and second most-produced in 2018-2019, this is a distinctly modern phenomenon. (That playwright is Lauren Gunderson, playwright of Something Something’s first production of the season, The Revolutionists.) Historical restrictions limited women’s opportunities to write and kept women’s work from the stage for a long time, which means staging women’s plays now is often a choice to focus on contemporary work rather than well-known classics. It doesn’t faze the women of Something Something, but producing a significant amount of new or unknown writers is a risk. Women may be finding their voice now and using it to tell amazing stories, but we have ground to make up.

But boy, are we. O’Dwyer and Morton Woodcock are faced with the best kind of problem when selecting plays: there are almost too many great plays by women. Selecting the next (and next, and next) season is a process of narrowing down the choices, and then amending that list as new plays are written and produced. And if they do a play by someone of the male persuasion? “Well,” Joan quipped, “if the play is written by a man, it has to be a really good play. They have to work five times as hard if they want to get in– for half as much pay!”

Oh, how the tables have turned. And while it is important to the Something Something artistic team to have representation, like all theatres, the point isn’t that the play was written by a woman, but rather that the play is meaningful, inspiring, challenging, or simply entertaining. (The point, I would add, is that women playwrights are writing great theatre prolifically, not in isolated cases of genius.)

Morton Woodcock explains, “It is more about the story and how we think the audience will feel. What it comes down to is that it is a good story and there are good roles. And liking the characters. Like in The Aliens, those guys are so… they’re so incompetent sometimes, but they’re also so funny. They are likable.”

“They’re sexist,” O’Dwyer interrupted.

This didn’t slow Morton Woodcock down for a beat, “But likable.” And so goes theatre. So goes storytelling. You don’t always want to be friends with the characters in a good show. She continued, “We pick plays about humans, humans who should be represented on the stage, but also humans who are flawed. We choose scripts that address those flaws, call out the bad behavior, but sometimes you just have to let the characters be the characters. I wouldn’t do a play that portrayed someone who was really horrible in a positive light and of course we aren’t going to do plays that endorse problematic people.”

“You have to feel empathy for these people,” O’Dwyer added. “But it is going to have to be handled delicately.” That is, after all, what good theatre is: showing people new perspectives and challenging them to reflect and take new perspectives out of the theater and into the real world. A lot of characters are morally gray.

While some plays this season present characters that force the audience to consider a new view point, others take on issues that are often overlooked or downplayed in a male dominated culture, like the decision to become a mother, go back to work, breastfeed in public, or seek help for postpartum depression. Cry It Out focuses on women connected by the experience of new motherhood and the challenges that come with it, something that struck close to home for Morton Woodcock as a new mother. She is also the director of Cry It Out and can relate to the women. “It isn’t sexy or fun to discuss,” she admitted, “Like, maternity leave, ohhh. But it has to be discussed. They talk in the play about how people judge the choices you make, about deciding to have a baby at all. Everyone, other moms included, has an opinion and everyone feels like they are right and if you do it differently, you are a monster. I cried when I read the script.”

I asked both if they had a show they were most excited about. Without hesitation O’Dwyer answered, “I’m really excited about Cry It Out. It has something we don’t often see on stage: new mothers and they are all different.” Cry It Out goes beyond the stereotypes of never getting enough sleep or complaining about changing diapers.

Woodcock Morton also has a favorite: “The one I think is important for people to see it Martie’s play Transformations. This topic, the concept of transgender and gender fluidity, is something that has been growing in the public eye in terms of celebrities and media and people talking about it more but a lot of people still don’t understand. Martie is not giving a lecture or sharing what can be googled; she is sharing people. She is funny and it is well written and she gives each character she plays their own persona that you can relate to. I’m not sure that people realize that representation matters. The types of stories you see, the types of characters you see, impacts your world view. We consume stories to explain our lives, or who we are, but it also normalizes new or different perspectives.”

The 2019-2020 season, Something Something’s fifth, brings five plays, all written by women, to the stage. And Joan has a point, they aren’t just writing about homely things, they are writing about revolution, being human, pride and pain, motherhood, and even boys being boys.

This season is a lot about people you think you know, but are presented in a different way that makes you question yourself and those notions. Confront what you think you know at Something Something Theatre. The season is listed online and below. You can become a season ticket holder now and catch all five performances for $75.00 or purchase single tickets for $25.00 each by calling their box office at (520) 468-6111.

Something Something 2019-2020

Something Something Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson
September 12 – 29, 2019
Set during the height of the French Revolution, four women – a playwright, an assassin, a spy and an empress – bond to tell the story of their turbulent times for future generations. It’s a comedy. Guillotines may be involved. 

TransFormations by Martie van der Voort
October 31 – November 17, 2019
Local actor and playwright van der Voort performs all twelve transgender characters, their close relatives and significant others at a group therapy session. TransFormations’ has been performed to acclaim in Tucson and in cities around the nation, but this will be its first full run!

Apples in Winter by Jennifer Fawcett
November 27 – December 15, 2019
We are with a woman baking a small pie in a kitchen not her own. The room is bare, institutional. There are no chairs, and a knife is attached to the work table with a wire.  This is the story of a mother’s deepest love and most grievous pain.

Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Metzler’s sympathetic yet brutally honest play brings characters to the stage not normally seen. Three women, diverse in all ways… except hat they have all recently given birth and are coping with everything that comes with being the main caretaker. Funny and uniquely insightful, written by a young mother.

The Aliens by Annie Baker
March 26 – April 12, 2020
Something Something Theatre produced Body Awareness, another of Baker’s ‘Shirley, Vermont plays’ in our second season. Dramatists Play Service describes The Aliens so darn well that we’re simply forced to run their synopsis here: “Two angry young men sit behind a Vermont coffee shop and discuss music and Bukowski. When a lonely high-school student arrives on the scene, they decide to teach him everything they know. A play with music.” – Dramatists Play Service