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StageStruck: Uncommon Womyn

A new play brings an iconic classic full circle.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Chris Rohmann Photo
Left to right: Nicole Guild, Octavia Cephas and Kendra Hollingsworth in Uncommon Womyn

"My problem with Wendy Wasserstein is that she only writes about the problems of the Upper West Side. Talk about entitlement. 'Do I work or do I get married?' What a dilemma!"

That line is spoken in a play about a group of Mount Holyoke College students rehearsing a play by Wendy Wasserstein about a group of Mount Holyoke College students. Completing the metacircle, the play is being performed this weekend at the college by a group of Mount Holyoke students. It's an original one-act written as a response to Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others, which is being performed this month as one of the key events in a year-long celebration of the playwright, who graduated from the college in 1971 and died in 2006.

Uncommon Women was Wasserstein's first New York success, putting her center stage as an important voice—probably the theatrical voice—of the women's movement's Second Wave. It was first produced in the '70s and now, according to Mount Holyoke senior Bryna Turner, who wrote and directed this weekend's retort to the original, "It seems so foreign to my experience in 2012."

Wasserstein's 1977 play follows eight students through their final year at MHC as they grapple with identities, relationships and life goals. The playwright juxtaposes the young women's fledgling feminist consciousness, tentatively rebellious spirits and (all hetero) sex lives with the college's gracious traditions, including bedtime tea and cookies presided over by a saccharine house mother. The set for theater professor Brooke O'Harra's current production frames the cozy common room with signs from feminist "Sisterhood is Powerful" protest marches of the period.

Turner's Uncommon Womyn is performed on the same set, and her characters have the same names as Wasserstein's and share some of their traits and quirks. But three of them are lesbians, two are black and all are engaged in, as Turner puts it, "very different struggles" from those faced by Wasserstein's generation. Where the character Muffet in Women rather sheepishly admits, "I would really like to meet my prince," Turner's Muffet wails, "If I spend any more time with Gender Studies majors I'm going to kill myself."

While Uncommon Women is part of the theater department's mainstage season and is an official entry in the college's Year of Wendy celebrations, Uncommon Womyn is an independent production by the student group Project: Theatre. Its creators see it not as a challenge to the original, but as a complement to it, an extension and reflection from today's vantage point. In fact, you can't get in to see Womyn unless you've seen Women first—your free ticket is in the program.

Turner fears that for today's audience, Wasserstein's work, so much a product of its time, now sends the unintended message that the feminist impulse she worked to articulate is a relic of the past. "What I'm trying to say in this show," she explains, "is that it's not done. We have very different struggles, and we're coming from a different perspective, but that doesn't mean we're done."

Uncommon Women and Others: April 26-28, $3-$5, Rooke Theatre, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley. Info at mtholyoke.edu/acad/theatre, tickets (413) 538-2406 or email rookeboxoffice@gmail.com.

Uncommon Womyn: April 26-28 following above performances, free with ticket from Uncommon Women program.

Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.

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