Stagestruck: Minority Report — Women and people of color on summer-theater stages

Readers of this column will know my practice of periodically reporting on the progress (or not) in the representation of women and people of color in area theaters. The summer season has recently ended, so I’ve been making a tally of this summer’s shows. The news is good.

My usual accounting falls into three categories — plays written by, directed by, and centrally featuring women and/or “minorities.” This year the results are better than ever. Three-quarters of the 40 professional productions in the Valley and Berkshires scored in at least one of those areas, and most of those in more than one.

“Heisenberg” set – Juliana von Haubrich

I’ve also begun noting representation on the design side of things: sets, lights and sound. Costume design has long been a largely female province, and the same goes for stage management, but until recently other “technical” roles have been a pretty exclusive boys’ club. That’s changing too, at least for white women.

This summer I counted 20 lighting, scenic and sound credits for women in a total of 15 shows — though eight of those credits belonged to just three prolific women. Juliana von Haubrich designed the sets for Disgraced at Chester Theatre Company and Heisenberg at Shakespeare & Company. Amy Altadonna designed the sound for Heisenberg as well as the company’s Creditors. Lara Dubin is practically the resident lighting designer at Chester, with a hand in three of this year’s four productions. Four shows at the Williamstown Theatre Festival also had women lighting, set, and/or sound designers.

Of the 40 productions on my list, 11 were written by white women, two by women of color, and five by men of color — not exactly parity, but a marked improvement on previous seasons. Fourteen were directed by women (two of them women of color) and three by men of color — a modest advance. Perhaps most impressive, in 20 of the shows the central figures were women or people of color (with some overlap). Many of these also focused on themes of race and ethnicity.

Laurie McCants in “Industrious Angels”

In the Valley, two of Ko Festival of Performance’s four offerings were solo shows written and performed by women (Helen Stoltzfus’ Like a Mother Bear, about motherhood and wilderness, and Laurie McCants’ Industrious Angels, about Emily Dickinson, directed by Sabrina Hamilton), along with Mexican-American Ilan Stavans’ The Oven, about indigenous cultures.

Silverthorne Theater Company premiered White, Black and Blue, co-authored by (black) Will Chalmus and (white) Steve Henderson, involving a black man (Daniel Rios) in a life-or-death collision with white liberalism and law enforcement. And Pauline Productions staged Jen Silverman’s two-woman The Roommate with an all-female creative and technical team, including director Toby Bercovici and actors Lisa Abend and Jeannine Haas.

Two amateur productions at Valley theaters also deserve mention. The Majestic Theater hosted the premiere of Betel Arnold’s Tight Pants, an immigration story set in the Dominican Republic, with a multicultural cast. And all three of Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s shows had women directors: Hannah Simms for two versions of Twelfth Night, and Annie Considine for Othello, with Joe Cardozo in the title role.

“Disgraced”

Chester Theatre Company’s season opened with Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Kristen van Ginhoven, about an Arab-American attorney faced with an cultural/ethical crisis. African-American director Colette Robert staged Mary’s Wedding, and the season closed with Aliens, by Amherst native Annie Baker.

In the Berkshires, two companies led the pack with seven-play seasons that hit the mark in at least one category with every show, while also presenting four world premieres apiece.

Williamstown Theatre Festival’s lineup included five multi-credit shows. James Anthony Tyler’s black-working-class dramedy Artney Jackson, directed by Laura Savia, starred Ray Anthony Thomas. The musical Lempicka, co-written by Carson Kreitzer and directed by Rachel Chavkin, featured Carmen Cusack and Eden Espinosa. Theresa Rebeck’s kitchen comedy Seared fielded a “color-blind” multicultural cast.

Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s production of Carson McCullers’ classic The Member of the Wedding at WTF focused on a black/white relationship, with Roslyn Ruff and Tavi Gevinson.And Dangerous House, another by Jen Silverman, about the “corrective rape” of gay people in South Africa, was directed by Saheem Ali and featured Alfie Fuller and Samira Wiley.

Barrington Stage Company’s season included five productions with women at their center, two of them women of color. Myxolydia Tyler (photo above) starred in Rachel Lynett’s campus drama Well Intentioned White People, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene; and Shannon Tyo was the title character in Lloyd Suh’s immigrant-themed The Chinese Lady, directed by Ralph B. Peña and featuring Asian-American Daniel K. Isaac. The Royal Family of Broadway was headed by Harriet Harris, Laura Michelle Kelly and Hayley Podschun; Typhoid Mary by Tasha Lawrence; A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Laila Robins; and The Cake by Debra Jo Rupp, supported by Nemuna Ceesay and Virginia Vale.

Harriet Harris in “Sister Mary Ignatius”

Four of Shakespeare & Company’s seven productions were directed by women — Macbeth (Melia Bensussen), Love’s Labor’s Lost (Kelly Galvin), Creditors (Nicole Ricciardi), and Heisenberg (Tina Packer). Carey Crim’s Morning After Grace was helmed by African-American Regge Life. Berkshire favorite Annette Miller starred in Mothers and Sons, about a woman coming to terms with her dead son’s homosexuality.

The Berkshire Theatre Group’s contributions to the mix included Harriet Harris’ second area appearance this season, in the title role of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Charlotte Cohn directed Church & State and Daisy Walker staged the group’s revival of Hair, with lighting by Patricia M. Nichols. Two men of color contributed production designs: Alan C. Edwards, sets and lights for Sister Mary Ignatius, and Wilson Chin, sets for The Petrified Forest.

Photos: Jennifer Graessle, Daniel Rader, Sabrina Hamilton,
Elizabeth Solaka, Emma Rothenberg-Ware

If you’d like to be notified of future posts, email StageStruck@crocker.com

Chris Rohmann

Author: Chris Rohmann

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