A WOMAN AMONG WOMEN / All Long True American Stories
A WOMAN AMONG WOMEN by Julia May Jonas, directed by Sarah Hughes, with music by Brian Cavanagh-Strong, is just one of the plays in Julia’s 5-play cycle ALL LONG TRUE AMERICAN STORIES, which is, in her words: “a theatrical event that responds to five white ‘male-experience’ plays of the American Western theatrical Canon with five full-length plays featuring situations and experiences for other people (mostly women).”
IN PROCESS Here’s Julia on ALL LONG TRUE AMERICAN STORIES generally, and A WOMAN AMONG WOMEN in particular:
“I am using my response plays as interrogations into dramatic form, and what dramatic form posits about gender. ALTAS attempts, in its volume, to test the fluidity versus solidity of gender in “classic” storytelling and narrative structures, to provide not one, but myriad stories that focus on the female body as a subject of interest, and to place characters in situations that ask the audience to confront their preconceived notions of what/who a feminine body can or can’t be or do. The plays will create an immense volume of complex female situations and will willfully/gleefully ignore patriarchal circumstances and constraints.
The plays I am responding to are All My Sons (by Arthur Miller), Long Day’s Journey Into Night, (by Eugene O’Neill), True West, (by Sam Shepard), American Buffalo (by David Mamet) and Zoo Story (by Edward Albee). Each of these plays were used, in my formative years, to teach me about theater — to teach me what “a good play” is, what structure is, what, indeed “American Drama” is. These plays taught me about life – about honor, family, addiction, failure, and violence. They are also remarkably and overwhelmingly concerned with questions of masculinity, and feature men as “actors” and women (if they are featured at all) as bystanders or victims.
Although each of the source-material plays situate themselves in Western realist drama, as a writer, I am not a realist – and that tension is intrinsically present in the project. I come from an experimental, avant-garde background – influenced by Richard Forman, Adrienne Kennedy, Big Dance Theater and The Wooster Group, my work sits much more comfortably beneath a Brechtian umbrella. I am interested in provoking the audience to see the mechanism of the performance first before I am interested in moving them. I aim to have emotional connection or empathy be evoked from an audience in spite of a formal presentation that lets us know, from the start, that we are watching all very consciously watching a Play. I do this through heightened, poetic language, through song and dance and physicality, through carefully crafted rhythmic scoring, oddities of phraseology, voiced stage directions, purposeful juxtaposition of setting versus situation, and moments of surrealist magic. To me, the original source-texts I am working with are very strange indeed – and it is my wrestling with their “well-built-ness” in the face of my avant-garde and experimental background that makes this project so artistically engaging.
A Woman Among Women responds to All My Sons – Miller’s Greek-tragedy take on the domestic fallout to America’s involvement in World War II. The play will be ostensibly set in the backyard of Cleo, the matriarch, but the actual physical space will resemble a recovery meeting in a church basement. By doing this, I’m interested in evoking a sense of theater as group therapy, and examining the idea of “catharsis,” both in the dramatic and therapeutic sense. The play will center around a woman who sacrifices her daughter for the sake of her reputation, and the community fallout from this sacrifice. The entire audience will sit in a circle along with the actors and watch Cleo, who begins the play as the “king” of the neighborhood, experience an Aristotelian fall from grace.”
MEET THE LEAD ARTISTS (a collaboration that began in The New Georges Jam!)
Julia May Jonas is a writer, theater artist and founder of the troupe Nellie Tinder. Her theater work has been presented/developed with The Bushwick Starr, New Georges, Ars Nova, Target Margin, PRELUDE, The Great Plains Theatre Conference, Montclair State New Works Initiative, NACL, and others. Her debut novel, Vladimir, was published in February 2022 by Avid Reader Press. Julia has taught at Skidmore College and New York University, and lives in Brooklyn with her family.
Sarah Hughes is a director and producer who makes live performances of all kinds: new plays, VR pieces, devised work, hybrid new media projects, audio performances, and more. Recent directing work includes A Walrus in the Body of a Crocodile by MJ Kaufman at Purchase College and His Chest is Only Skeleton by Julia Izumi for Playwrights Horizons Soundstage. As a producer she’s developed pieces with artists & institutions such as Sibyl Kempson, MoMA, Half Straddle, Tribeca Film Festival, New York Theatre Workshop, and The New York Times. Sarah was a longtime company member of Elevator Repair Service, is an Affiliated Artist of Target Margin Theater and New Georges, and has held residencies and fellowships at WP Theater, the O’Neill National Directors Fellowship, Clubbed Thumb, Mercury Store, New Georges, and The Civilians. She’s taught at Purchase College, Dartmouth College and NYU, and created the role of Director of Artistic Programming at Theatre Row, where she conceived & led the Kitchen Sink Residency, a new-work development program for emerging performance companies. Upcoming projects include #Graced by Vanessa Garcia at Zoetic Stage in Miami (Spring 2023). More about her work here: www.sarahcameronhughes.com
ABOUT THE BUSHWICK STARR: THE BUSHWICK STARR is an Obie Award-winning non-profit theater that presents an annual season of new performance work. We are an organization defined by both our artists and our community, and since 2007, we have grown into a thriving theatrical venue, a vital neighborhood arts center, and a destination for exciting and engaging performance. We provide a springboard for emerging professional artists to make career-defining leaps, and we are a sanctuary where established performance companies come to experiment and innovate. We are also a neighborhood playhouse, serving our Bushwick, Brooklyn community’s diverse artistic needs and impulses. Our past Seasons have included new work from groundbreaking artists such as Whitney White, Jeremy O. Harris, Heather Christian, Diana Oh, The Mad Ones, Haruna Lee, Clare Barron, and Daniel Fish. The Starr will establish our permanent home at 419 Eldert Street in 2024, creating a lasting cultural asset for Bushwick and for artists, students, and audiences across New York City. For more information, please visit thebushwickstarr.org/campaign.
ALSO NOTE Julia spent the early pandemic writing her debut novel, Vladimir, published in February by Simon and Schuster to loads of attention and rave reviews! Trust us. THIS is your summer reading.