‘Parts for Women Written by Men’ reevaluates female identity in theater

Feb. 11, 2015, 11:57 p.m.
(l-r) Kira Alqueza '18 as Julie, Amabel Stokes '17 as Nina, and Maryam Attai as Nora. Photo by Frank Chen.
(l-r) Kira Alqueza ’18 as Julie, Amabel Stokes ’17 as Nina, and Maryam Attai as Nora. Photo by Frank Chen.

This past weekend, the production of Ph.D. student Audrey Moyce’s clever, existential play, “Parts for Women Written by Men,” was mounted as part of the TAPS Grad Student Showcase. Well-executed and sharply written, Moyce’s original play targets the misrepresentation of female characters in the canon of Western theater.

“Parts for Women Written by Men” takes three well-known heroines — Julie from August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House” and Nina from Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” — and puts them in a room together, as represented by Nitery’s black-box theater. Here, without a male figure to define them, each woman must decide for herself who she wants to be.

The characters Moyce chooses — though they all come from male, 19th century playwrights — are heterogenous in temperament. Strindberg’s Julie in “Miss Julie” is defiant, unwilling to accept the social code that’s been laid out for her. Ibsen’s Nora, while also rebellious, is far more shrewd and introspective than Julie. Chekhov’s Nina, on the other hand, is entirely autonomous and proves to be the most resilient of the three.

Still, in Audrey Moyce’s director’s note, she recalls noticing patterns in the traits of these  “female male-written characters.” Namely, they are given “diminutive nicknames,” they lack female friendships and there is a “question of what these women do once the play is over.” But in Moyce’s play, these women strive to overcome said patterns, refusing to be defined by the perceived qualities of their gender.

Moyce’s script is everything an actor can wish for a source material to be. It points toward profound truths without resorting to an intellectual parlance that would alienate broader audiences. Her one-liners lampoon male playwrights’ somewhat arbitrary dictation of what femininity should look like (e.g., a slim figure). Moyce’s Nora unwittingly addresses the unreasonable standard of beauty for women when she remarks ingenuously, “I think the universe would want me to maintain my figure.”

The actresses responsible for delivering such witticisms merit praise for their convincing portrayals of the young ingénues. Grad student Maryam Attai, who played the malcontent Nora, prompted huge laughs while stoically explaining why she has to spit out the macaroons she eats: “It’s a compromise: My husband says that sweets will ruin my teeth. This way neither of us is happy.” Julie — portrayed by the enthusiastic Kira Alqueza ’18 — was equally hilarious as she ironically commanded her counterpart, Nina, to boss her around. This moment of levity also betrayed Moyce’s larger existential theme: It is difficult for these characters to make decisions for themselves.

The credulous Nina — played brilliantly by Amabel Stokes ’17 — steals the show. Innocently pestering audience member Rebecca Ormiston about how it feels to be an audience member looking in, Stokes’ meta-exchange with the TAPS Ph.D. student marked the high point of the show. Stokes’ satirical naiveté aptly demonstrated Moyce’s point that male playwrights have dulled the intellect and autonomy of their female characters.

Moyce’s laudable play has implications far beyond the misrepresentation of women in theater. It is as much a play about identity and choices — issues with which men and women alike must cope. Her characters are burdened by the fact that, without a male playwright present, they must determine their identities for themselves, which suggests Moyce’s thesis: Ultimately, finding yourself is far easier when you allow someone else to define you, but that plane of existence is of a vastly lesser quality.

Contact Ian Anstee at ianstee5 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Ian Anstee is a Theater Desk Editor for Arts and Life at the Stanford Daily. He is primarily interested in theatre performance but also has an unhealthy obsession with classical music. Ian was born and raised in Havertown, Pennsylvania and is a proud member of the class of 2018. On any given weekend, you may find Ian hiking the dish, achieving nirvana at Windhover Contemplation Center, or binge-watching House of Cards. Contact him at ianstee5 "at" stanford.edu.

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