Monday, April 23rd, 2018

USM Professor hosts live reading of “He and She” playwright

Posted on April 19, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Amanda Melanson

By: Amanda Melanson, Free Press Staff

On April 13, Professor Assunta Kent hosted a live reading of the play He and She by Rachel Crothers at USM’s Talbot Lecture Hall in Luther Bonney. Crothers was an American playwright and theater director known for her well-crafted feminist thematic plays with strong educational and ethical messages for anyone looking to understand the evolution of feminism and the problems that still come up today. By historians, both past and present, recognize Crothers as the most successful and prolific woman dramatist writing in the first part of the twentieth century. Many of her plays, and specifically He and She, touch upon the double standard between genders. He and She is set in 1910, and its central theme lies with the question: What is a woman’s job? Is it to her family as the caretaker, or is it to contribute finances alongside her husband?

He and She tells the story of a young married couple, Tom and Ann Herford. They are a happy couple with successful careers and a child. Tom supports women’s rights and is pleased that his wife has demonstrated talent in his own field, sculpture. But when he loses an important sculptural commission to Ann, the family’s beliefs are put to the test: Can Tom live with his wife’s public success and his own very visible failure? Can Ann live with Tom’s embarrassment and the effect it may have on their relationship? Will Ann’s professional commitments now take her even further from her maternal duties to a teenaged daughter who is already feeling neglected because of her parents’ busy work lives? Other characters include Tom’s assistant, who is honest about expecting his fiancee to give up her career as a journalist and become a homemaker when they marry; Ann’s father, who is dismayed that his daughter would even consider jeopardizing her marriage in this way; and Tom’s unmarried sister, who is self-supporting but has achieved her own status by not having a husband and children, a loss she regrets.The play ends with Ann arguing that the decision to have children, for a woman, changes everything. The live reading ran two hours in length, finishing with open-floor feedback from the audience that opened up the discussion of the different themes of the play and the comparison to how these situations might be approached now.

The open-floor discussion brought up the very heart of the issues brought up by the play, with one audience member asking questions of the cast, “What are you willing to give or take on [as a parent]? You’re lucky if you get to stay home and most think it’s supposed to be easy. There’s nothing easy about being a mom.”

Kent, the director and narrator of the play, further responded to other comments to the play: “A lot of countries have family leave and daycare and we have not made progress on that.”

“The take away from the play is that the issues Ann, Tom, and the rest of the cast face are still actually relevant in today’s society. We still have issues of equality happening today.” USM student Hollie Pryor said. Pryor is a sophomore theatre major last seen in the ASL As You Like It performance at USM.

The actual statistical data that was discussed during the sit down with the cast was this: “Female full-time workers make only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men,” according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. With that in mind, it can be hard to argue women being asked to stay home by their spouses, as is the case with Ann and Tom during the play.

It is through the influence of Dr. Remington, Ann’s father who is portrayed by Ezra Briggs, a political science major at USM, that Tom begins to question whether or not he is truly as open minded as he thinks he is when it comes to his wife’s rights and her career choices. Briggs appeared last semester in Our Town at USM and has appeared in plays more than 30 times in the last 11 years with different community theatres. He explained, expanding on Pryor’s response, that issues of equality are “a timeless issue” that we are unfortunately struggling with still to this day. He also noted early on in the talk that while his character is very old fashioned in his values, Briggs himself is not, resulting in some laughs and a shoulder pat from one of his castmates

“We rehearsed over fifteen hours, from the time everyone got their scripts and began memorizing their lines. Tonight was our first live run of the play!” Pryor said. Each actor expressed mutual excitement at the turnout for the live reading of the play. As part of the authenticity, each actor was dressed in costumes matching the period in time from which the play originated.

The casts’ hard work paid off, as their live reading was met with applause and deep discussion to finish off the evening. A trip to Denny’s followed as a way for the cast to celebrate.

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