The cliché that women focus on character and men on narrative, says Manitou Art Theatre artistic director Birgitta DePree, is erroneous. At least in the MAT's Six Women Playwriting Festival, it's the 10-minute-limit for each play that "necessitates a focus on character," because there's no time for plot twists and turns. (Which isn't to say there aren't any surprise endings.)
Either way, a focus on character suits playwright Nina Mansfield just fine.
"I think that's the most interesting thing to see on stage, to see characters grappling with their relationships," she says.
Bona Fide, her entry in this fourth annual Six Women Festival, plays well to the event's overarching theme of "mixed emotions." It's about a marriage of convenience — with the Iranian husband gaining American citizenship — and the couple's mixed emotions about their relationship.
When creating the characters for this play — as with her others — she says, she asked herself: "What are the people really going through? How can I put that on stage so they're more than just spokespeople for this idea?"
Mansfield says that her play may seem political on the surface, given immigration's place in the news, "but really it's a play about human emotions and how people feel about each other."
Another superficially political play is Dry Cleaning the Soul by Tammy Ryan, which centers around a Catholic woman who's dragged into confession before her daughter's First Communion. She confesses having had an abortion as a teenager to a young priest who grew up with her children, and their discussion reveals her mixed emotions about her choice and the Catholic Church.
(A humorous side note: Ryan can't make the festival because of her younger daughter's First Communion.)
"I think [abortion] is a much more complicated issue," Ryan says, "and that people have mixed emotions about it on both sides. Being pro-choice isn't something Catholics advertise. But at the same time, I'm pro-life in a way that pro-lifers don't really get."
While Ryan says pro-lifers may take issue with her position, she says, "I take issue with the [Catholic] Church's position about it, actually. The Church makes exceptions for things like a just war, but they don't make exceptions for a woman. I don't think it should be politicized."
Director Jim Jackson says Dry Cleaning "compels us to think about the character's past, present and future in light of our own experience, and that makes for good theater."
While the festival honors female playwriting, it's by no means trying to silence the male voice. Two of the six directors putting these plays on this year are actually men.
Says DePree: "Let's open up the field for interpretation."