Annie is white and a feminist but tries not to be a ‘white feminist’; she is also a dramaturg.

Nora is also white and a feminist, and is a dramaturg, writer, and actress

 

Annie

So let’s empty our pockets! I think first of all we have to make clear that we saw a reading, not a full production.

Nora

Yes, important distinction between a piece in development and a full production.

Annie

I also know one of the actors and the director, Cat Ramirez, and I like Cat’s work generally.

Nora

 Cat is a long-time friend of mine and she’s directed me in a piece before.

Annie

And finally I think I need to put out there that I have a complicated relationship with the Women’s Theater Festival as an institution. I think that the festival has a serious problem with intersectionality. All of the women who run it are white, and the work presented is largely by white women, as well. A quick scan through this season reveals almost all white artists, mostly in their 20’s/30’s with  a small number of exceptions– including this collaboration with Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists. I don’t know how they looked at the image on their season guide with all of those headshots, saw so few faces of color and didn’t reflect that there is a serious lack of inclusivity in this festival.

Nora

Very interesting! I don’t really have a relationship with the festival, but I did go to the same university as the creators and have friends participating in the festival in other works.

Annie

I want to be supportive of this endeavor, because I think part of being a good feminist is not tearing down other women. At at the same time, I’m really bothered by the limited female experience that the festival presents.

Nora

I think reaching out to PAPA was an attempt to broaden the presentation of female experience.

Annie

I was happy to see them reach out to PAPA. And I was hoping that it would help change my feeling about the festival. So I was disappointed that I had a lot of problems with this script. Both in structure, and content.

Nora

I agree. Let’s tackle one first and then move to the next. My issue with the structure was its predictability. Expectation inevitably leads to boredom, because we get ahead of it, so to speak. It was always “scene with two women, sex scene with man, scene with two women, sex scene with man.”

Annie

That’s a good point. And part of that boredom came from the fact that there wasn’t any real conflict.

Nora

It was a rom com without conflict. Just women existing sexually is not enough to make a dynamic night of theatre.

Annie

I was also frustrated by the fact that none of the characters changed or grew.  Which is a shame, because if this script  has something redeemable, it’s that there are quite a few interesting ideas in there. Teddy is a potentially very interesting character. She’s quite cruel. What causes her to behave that way? Why does Sammy want to be friends with her? I’m bothered that Teddy is a really abusive friend, but she doesn’t ever have to answer for it. The script absolves her.

Nora

Nothing says “good friend” like talking to your lady boo while she vomits from anxiety in the bathroom.

Annie

And nothing says ‘go to therapy’ like a friend who constantly ridicules your choices and ignores what you want.

Nora

I don’t always need a resolution in my plays (and sometimes I prefer no resolutions), but there was never a “come to Jesus” moment. Teddy needed to be challenged.

Annie

Yeah, I think that’s what I mean.

Nora

A play examining Teddy and Sammy’s relationship as they try to navigate the complicated world of sex would be something to go on, but this was a very surface-level piece, never any diving deeper. Maybe the play is attempting to tackle too much? It’s very disjointed.

Annie

How do you mean?

Nora

We have Teddy and her mentee, Teddy’s sexual hangups, Sammy’s inability to connect with a lasting relationship, Alex’s issues with her husband….it’s a lot, and we never get to explore any one issue fully. Nothing gets to breathe.

Annie

I think you just hit on why this play offends my feminist sensibilities. It seems to think that all of those things are one thing: dissatisfaction of women at the hands of men in romantic relationships. And it posits men and romance as the appropriate source of satisfaction.

Nora

…because only a man can satisfy a woman fully. #girlbye

Annie

The ending is particularly infuriating because it presents women as exactly what men accuse us of being: incredibly needy but with no clearly articulated need. We just want it to be ‘about us’ whatever that means. Where it = heterosexual relationships.

Nora

Don’t get me wrong, I love that these women are articulating their desires. But it’s all wrapped up in clichés.

Annie

I feel that ‘an orgasm’ is the only clearly articulated desire– but in all the sex scenes, the women are uncommunicative.

They stare at the ceiling while their partners fail to give them what they want and need, then they complain to their girlfriends about it.

Nora

Most of those sex scenes seemed like they were there for the easy laugh. Sex is still very taboo in this country, so there were some missed opportunities to unpack that.

Annie

I also want to point out that the play is a little homophobic. Jokes about how guys who take care of their bodies are gay are outdated, and those jokes feed into the kind of double standard the play purports to criticize.

Nora

Yikes, I didn’t even think of that! But now we’re coming into another big issue: what is this piece saying about diversity?

Annie

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

Nora

In the blurb, it claims to be about “four straight women of a certain race.”

Annie

It’s very complicated. Because on the one hand, it’s great to see this very powerful and sexually confident Asian woman in Teddy. Maybe it’s great that these are four Asian women and they rarely talk about Asianness. But part of me wonders what this has to say about the straight Asian female experience that it doesn’t say about the female experience. Ultimately, I shouldn’t be the person to comment on that. I’m not going to tell an Asian writer that her play isn’t Asian enough.

Nora

Here’s the thing though. If you want to write a play that explores the Asian female experience with sex and relationships, then do that. But this piece just felt like the general female experience with sex and relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but then why state that the piece is speaking to Asianness as well?

Annie

Maybe she just wanted to make sure Asian women got a chance to be part of that general conversation?

Nora

I could see that. But then make this play their story. I would hate it if some jackass decided to cast this as an all white production. And unfortunately, the writing doesn’t help against that.

Annie

I hope AAPI women will come in and comment on this. I’d be very curious to hear what they have to say about it

Nora

I’m really torn about it, honestly.

Annie

Me, too.

Nora

Because you’re absolutely right. A play shouldn’t have to telegraph Asianness. Asian women should be allowed to talk about their experiences without someone from the outside labeling it as specifically Asian.

Annie

If you were asked to dramaturg this script, what advice would you give to Nandita Shenoy?

Nora

Oof that’s a tough one. I would want to begin with asking Shenoy what her major dramatic question is. Right now, the point she is trying to make is unclear to me. What big question about the universe is she trying to explore?

A play should be in service of diving into that question. Shenoy needs to narrow things down. When she streamlines, a lot of things will naturally fall into place.

Annie

My major complaint about this play is that it doesn’t seem aware of what people are saying about these issues right now. There are a lot of conversations in the public sphere about women and sex, and not at least availing yourself of that information makes the play seem out of touch. 

Nora

Sex is a constantly evolving landscape; it’s difficult to stay ahead of it.

Annie

I think I’m annoyed because women obsessing about romantic relationships all the time is not true to my experience of life or of female friendships. This play had four female characters and it still didn’t pass the Bechdel test. Women talk about men at work, at yoga, in a conversation that’s supposed to be about mentorship. No wonder no one wants to date these women, they’re boring. Literally all they ever talk about is men.  There is ONE POINT where two characters start talking about something else, and then the other says “enough about that, how’s your man? That’s where the play lost me completely.

Nora

And “I like what he does for your dancing?” CRINGE. I physically balked at that.

Annie

But then, maybe that IS some women experience.  Everything doesn’t have to be for me.

Nora

I don’t think it’s just you. I was pretty frustrated as well. Even women who DO have that kind of life should be given more credit. There are other things underlying those romantic and sexual needs that deserve to be voiced.

Annie

I think that’s what I’m getting at. That if you explore something as an artist,  you have a responsibility to dig deeper.

Nora

If Shenoy cuts some of the fat from the script, she’ll be able to dig deeper. It’s all about the streamlining and specificity.

Annie

I agree wholeheartedly. We should talk about this staged reading, because it was great!

Nora

Absolutely! And I want to give a special shout out to Noah Breymeier. He had the least to hold onto because he just played a stream of interchangeable men. But he was committed to every role. There wasn’t a lot to distinguish the men from each other, but Breymeier gave just enough for me to recognize the differences.

Annie

He did a fantastic job. He was so game, and so endearing. I also think that Twoey Truong was great as Teddy. She showed some vulnerability in a very tough character.  Her pacing (with credit to director Cat Ramirez here as well) was great.

Nora

She was very “Gilmore Girls,” which I personally appreciated. She breezed through the dialogue with a great attention to rhythm (credit to Cat again for facilitating this).

Annie

And I think that Stephanie Walters was equally endearing as Sammy.

Nora

She was sunshine in yoga pants.

Annie

God bless those poor actresses stuck playing Cecily and Alex. There was nothing to work with there, and they brought it.

Nora

Exactly. Mina Kawahara and Ru Pujara were both quite charming, so it was such a disservice for them to not have a chance to bite into something more meaty for the long haul. In future revisions, I hope their characters are given more time to develop.

Annie

Or cut.

Nora

Or that. As it stands, they could be cut without much fuss.

Annie

We’ve shouted out to Cat Ramirez a couple of times, but I want to say that I’m really impressed with her treatment of the script. She managed to keep the performance dynamic, despite the fact that the script wasn’t. She created levels, even with music stands. She was very mindful about what to stage and what not to. The pace was very good.

Nora

She guided things in such a way that it helped me visualize what a full production of this play might look like. That’s not always an easy feat with a staged reading.

Annie

I think the yoga stuff was very successful. And created a visual conflict in the scene. So great work all around.

Nora

So, how do you feel about PWTF after seeing “Satisfaction?” I hope they continue these kinds of partnerships with other similar organizations in the future.

Annie

I hope so too, but I feel like some deeper soul searching is needed. Reaching out to PAPA was a good first step and it’s an evolving festival

Nora

Exactly. This is only their second year. Inclusivity certainly seems like a goal for them. Maybe next year they’ll expand on that.

 

One thought on “Satisfaction- Philadelphia Women’s Theater Festival

  1. Nandita Shenoy wrote on social media, “Over the years, I have often been asked why the characters in my plays must be Asian because they don’t do particularly “Asian” things. As tempting as it is to add a scene in which everyone eats rice to every play play, my response is simple – that’s the point. I write in traditionally “white” forms because I live in a traditionally “white” world in which I do traditionally “white” things like go on dates and deal with my mortgage and look for jobs and hang out with friends, except that to me these are not “white” activities but merely things that I do every day as myself. Wouldn’t it be cool if characters of color were allowed to do them too?”
    I wouldn’t have put it that way, but I can’t begrudge an Asian playwright for specifying race in roles, if only to normalize the experience of being an Asian-American without making the play about race. I understand many of the criticisms here, but I think it is unfair to expect this play to explore race and “Asianness” when that is not the point of the play. I think because of social conditioning and the “white default” we are accustomed to seeing people of color as a way to comment or find meaning in a role or play that undermines the idea of inclusivity. “Oh, they’re Asian, what does that *mean?*” It could just mean they’re Asian.

    Like

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