Author Archives: Aileen Jacobson

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July 7, 2017 by

“Marvin’s Room” Explores Sisterhood and Caregiving

0264r2_Celia Weston and Lili Taylor in MARVIN'S ROOM, Photo by Joan Marcus 2017-1Why are women expected to be caregivers—for their children, their parents, and sometimes for other relatives as well—while men are not?

That is not the question being asked by “Marvin’s Room,” a 1990 play by Scott McPherson now making its Broadway debut in a beautifully calibrated and engrossing production. Nevertheless, the question may occur to women in the audience. 

The comedic drama, directed by Anne Kauffman, explores the relationship between two sisters who became estranged some 20 years earlier, when one stayed home to care for their dying father and his ailing sister while the other departed to pursue different paths, eventually becoming a single mother of two boys and a candidate for a degree in cosmetology, which she hopes will lead to a more affluent and fulfilling life. After the caregiver discovers she herself has leukemia, she reaches out to her sister and nephews as possible bone marrow donors, and they come to visit. The story is told with a lot of wry, absurdist humor about such subjects as awkward doctor visits, painful backs and encounters with costumed actors at Disney World.

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April 28, 2017 by

Find Out Why “A Doll’s House, Part 2″ Surprises Feminist Audiences

Laurie Metcalf in a scene from A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2 . Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Laurie Metcalf in a scene from A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 . Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Who would ever have imagined that a sequel based on any play by Henrik Ibsen could be a nearly nonstop laugh fest? But “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” now playing on Broadway, is just that—and without being disrespectful toward the serious feminist themes in Ibsen’s 1879 drama, a benchmark in its examination of women’s struggles in a male-dominated environment and an affirmation of a woman’s right to go her own way. As Karl Marx said about history, theater sometimes covers the same ground twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Actually, the new work by Lucas Hnath, a 37-year-old playwright who has written several well-received Off-Broadway plays, doesn’t repeat Ibsen’s plot, though it does revisit the views toward women that Nora Helmer, the play’s heroine, rebelled against when she famously slammed the door on her house, husband and three children, and left to explore the possibilities of an independent life. Now it’s 15 years later, and there’s a knock on the same door Nora had used to escape what would have been her fate of continuing to be treated as a “doll,” cared for and condescended to by a tradition-bound husband. Is she in trouble? Yes, but not in a way you might anticipate.

Nora strides in, beautifully dressed and loudly assertive, a successful and wealthy author of books about “the way the world is towards women and the ways in which the world is wrong,” as she tells Anne Marie, the elderly nanny who stayed with the family to raise her children. One novel is autobiographical and has encouraged other women to leave their husbands, she says. She uses a pseudonym, but an angry husband tracked down her real name, and that has led to her discovery that her husband, Torvald, never divorced her, which she had assumed he had. A revelation that she is still married would brand her as a hypocrite. Worse, it would make her a criminal. She has “signed contracts, done business, had lovers—all sorts of things that a married woman isn’t allowed to do, that are illegal, that amount to fraud.” A divorce would straighten things out. (Illegally signing a document, though for a good reason, got Nora into hot water in Ibsen’s play—but you don’t have to know the original to understand this one.) 

My thoughts turned to the Orthodox Jewish stricture through which a woman is not divorced unless her husband gives her a document called a gett. A man gives the gett to the woman. There is no vice versa.

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April 13, 2017 by

Powerful Women at War

Patti LuPone in WAR PAINT, photo by Joan Marcus

Patti LuPone in WAR PAINT, photo by Joan Marcus

Toward the end of “War Paint,” the new Broadway musical about two queens of the cosmetics industry, one Jewish and one not, Elizabeth Arden (the blond, blue-eyed Christian one) asks in a lyric whether they had made women more free or helped “enslave them.”

Helena Rubinstein, the makeup mogul with darker hair and a longer nose, who was born in a Polish shtetl, replies, “Perhaps they will forgive us when they look at what we gave them.” That would be more than just lipsticks and creams to make them more alluring and, maybe, establish a clearer sense of self-worth (or maybe make them doubt their worth if they didn’t embellish their looks). The two also demonstrated how far women could go in business, establishing their own highly successful companies and amassing millions of dollars.

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April 4, 2017 by

Gender Plays Out on B’way

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The theater was packed—there had been long lines outside as invited guests and hopeful members of the public jostled to enter and find seats. Inside, the stage of the August Wilson Theater, which opened in 1925 with a production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra,” was filled with theater luminaries. It was December 6, 2016, and the 1,200 or so people in attendance were gathered to pay tribute to Edward Albee, who had died two months earlier at the age of 88.

It was a lovely event, filled with anecdotes from colleagues and excerpts from Albee’s plays delivered by well-known actors, and I was happy that a friend had invited me along. It slowly dawned on me, however, that among the dozens of speakers who rotated on and off the stage, there was only one female playwright. That was Emily Mann—and she was introduced not as a playwright but as a director, which was indeed her role in Albee’s life. Everything said on the stage was appropriate for the occasion, including the comments by Terrence McNally, John Guare, Arthur Kopit and Will Eno, all fellow playwrights who, like Albee, have had shows produced on Broadway, the pinnacle of American commercial theater.

But wait, I thought to myself, where are the women?

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