N.Y. directors discuss theater works
By Robert Szypko, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, August 20, 2010
In two installations of the 18th annual New York Theatre Workshop, New York playwrights Deen and Joan Vail Thorne will present their original works, “Draw the Circle” and “The Anatomy of a Female Pope,” which will address current issues pertaining to preconceived conventions about gender.
The Workshop, which presents two plays every Saturday during its residency, is a three-week program that allows artists to work on special projects and their performance techniques as a break from the bustling city atmosphere.
As a transgendered man and performer, Deen has used drama to process the great changes and challenges that have happened in is life. The most important thing about his work is its ability to connect to other people who have struggled with their own identities, Deen told participants in a pre-play discussion at the Warner Bentley Theater on Tuesday.
In “Draw the Circle,” his solo show that will be performed at the Warner Bentley Theater on Saturday at 5 p.m., Deen will examine the ways in which gender norms constrain anyone — transgender or not.
“Everyone is reigned in by our gender system,” he said.
Gender-normative ideas present in society prevent people from being “all the weird idiosyncrasies that we are,” Deen said.
Deen said that he believes there should be a language for those who live in between one gender and the other, a voice he tries to capture in his plays.
“There are so many people who live that but live it secretly,” he said.
While Deen said that he was unsure about whether theater can change someone’s mind, he is motivated by the possibility of impacting another person with his work.
“If there’s one person in the audience who feels less alone because of your play, then you have succeeded,” Deen said, recalling the advice that his mentor often told him.
“The Anatomy of a Female Pope,” which will also be performed on Saturday, was written by playwright Joan Vail Thorne, who said that her play was made more immediate by the recent frustrations with the Roman Catholic Church.
“I am so appalled by what is going on now [with the Church] that I thought this was a perfect time to write the play,” she said at the discussion. “I worked on it years ago and then put it away, not in any particular distress. I think it’s the cultural climate that made me exhume it.”
In “Anatomy of a Female Pope,” a nun disguises herself as a man, becomes a priest and then rises up in the Vatican hierarchy, drawing inspiration from the legendary story of a 10th century female pope. Vail Thorne said that the play is a chance to show that women are just as capable as men to hold high-level positions.
“You have to think something is possible to make it possible,” she said. “I had an Irish grandmother and she would probably wash me out with soap if I [mentioned a female pope].”
While the play focuses on the hierarchy of the church, Vail Thorne said that the play is generally about corruption and power in society.
“The hidden hierarchies in every walk of life, they are haunting us,” she said. “I see these people who are covered in disguise, and I wonder who is hiding under that.”
The piece incorporates many different time periods, styles and tones for a “unique” method of storytelling, David Schweitzer, who is directing “Anatomyof a Female Pope,” said in the discussion.