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L.A. theater's glass ceiling

September 12, 2008 |  5:35 pm

Rebeck In an essay on the Guardian website this week, playwright Theresa Rebeck laments the dearth of women writers being produced comercially on Broadway: “In the 2008/2009 season, as it has been announced, the number of plays written by women on New York stages will amount to 12.6% of the total. Want to know the same figure for the 1908/1909 season? Let's see, it was ... 12.8%!”

When it comes to plays, the numbers for women aren’t so great in L.A.’s largest nonprofit theaters.

Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” which ran on Broadway last season, had been scheduled for the Pasadena Playhouse this fall but was replaced by David Rambo’s “The Lady With All the Answers.” “Mauritius” was moved to the 2009 season — with a scheduled opening in late March, joining the theater's only other scheduled play by a woman, “The Little Foxes” by Lillian Hellman. Ironically, the Playhouse is celebrating "Women: The Heart and Soul of the Theatre" through 2009.

Over at Center Theatre Group, it’s really all about men — at least at the Mark Taper Forum, with works by Octavio Solis, Richard Montoya, Martin McDonough and Anton Chekhov. It’s ever-so-slightly better at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, where one of the five plays in the new season — Elizabeth Meriwether’s performance piece “Heddatron” — is penned by a woman. The Ahmanson is all musicals in its regular season; two plays, offered as “bonus options” — “Frost/Nixon” and “Dame Edna: My First Last Tour” — both were written by men (sorry to break it to you, folks, but Dame Edna isn’t really a woman).

The Geffen Playhouse’s announced season includes no female playwrights — although the schedule for the small Audrey Kenis Skirball space hasn’t been released. And at Laguna Playhouse in Orange County, it’s an all-boys club.

The picture is markedly different at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. Upcoming are Sarah Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Ruth and Agustus Goeth’s “The Heiress” (hey — half of the writing team is better than nothing), Amy Freed’s “You, Nero” and Lauren Gunderson’s “Emilie.” The latter two plays are world premieres, commissioned and developed by SCR.

So what am I missing here? While we shouldn't expect some sort of gender-based affirmative action, we can ask that our artistic directors follow the lead of SCR by taking more risks and helping to develop new work by underrepresented women writers, especially those from the Southland: Suzan-Lori Parks, Beth Henley, Julia Cho, Jessica Goldberg, Bridget Carpenter, Naomi Iizuka, Julie Marie Myatt, Alice Tuan, Jane Anderson, to name a few.

Lisa Fung

Photo of Theresa Rebeck by Andy Tew / Williamstown Theater Festival