Women dominate stages in local festival celebrating their work

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Hatchet Photographer

Natsu Onoda Power, an associate professor of theater at Georgetown University, is the director of “Lathe of Heaven,” which will run until March 11 at the Spooky Action Theater.

Updated: Jan. 30, 2018 at 5:05 p.m.

As women’s empowerment continues to dominate the national conversation, women are taking over stages across the DMV in a festival exclusively featuring female playwrights.

Now through the beginning of March, 24 plays will be shown at theaters in the DMV area as part of the second Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The organization highlights plays written by women that center around issues like identity and immigration, and many also tell the stories of a woman’s experience.

D.C. theaters like Folger Theatre, Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center are among those that will present at least one new play by a female playwright to run for a duration of about three weeks. Tickets for the shows are sold individually and range from $10 to about $100, but visitors can buy a festival pass for $15, which grants them a 25 percent discount on all tickets purchased.

Here are a few of the top shows featured and the stories of the playwrights behind the scripts:

Lathe of Heaven
Natsu Onoda Power, an associate professor of theater at Georgetown University, is the director of “Lathe of Heaven” – a play she adapted from a 1971 science fiction book by the same title. Power’s adaptation will run at the Spooky Action Theater, located at 1810 16th St., from Feb. 14 until March 11.

Set in a futuristic dystopia that shows how the original author imagined the year 2002, the play tells the story of a young man with the power to make his dreams a reality. The show utilizes props such as puppets and fast-paced storytelling to parallel the novel’s story.

Power has adapted books for the theater before, but her goal for this show was to honor the writer’s legacy as a science fiction writer in the 20th century, something that was rare to find at that time.

“Science fiction is a genre that is very dominated by men, but Ursula Le Guin just managed to be one of the prominent figures of science fiction in the U.S. with a really important voice,” Power said.

Power also noted that much like the author of the novel, she is breaking out of industry norms too. As a minority woman, Power said she’s struggled to find similar people in her industry, but if women are half the population then they should make up half of the people participating in theater.

“When I look at the larger theater world, I don’t see many other women that look like me directing,” Power said. “I think it’s a really important festival even by just calling your attention to the fact that theater, in general, has been a men’s voices festival.”

Waxing West
Don’t miss the chance to see Romanian-born playwright Saviana Stanescu’s award winning play, “Waxing West,” which will only run for another few weeks. The performance will be showcased at The Highwood Theatre, located at 914 Silver Spring Ave. in Silver Spring, Md., until Feb. 10.

The play tells the story of a Romanian cosmetologist, Daniela, who immigrated to New York as a mail-order bride. Throughout her journey, she is haunted by vampire spirits of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, a dynamic she said she created to show hardships in immigrants’ struggles to feel comfortable in the U.S.

“I was hoping to dramatize and theatricalize that inbetweenness that new immigrants experience – the constant negotiation between the values of the old country and those of the new country,” she said.

“Waxing West” won the John Golden Award for Excellence in Playwriting at New York University in 2004 and landed Stanescu with the New York Innovative Theatre Award in 2007, which she said gave her “wings” as an immigrant writer in New York.

The show takes on social issues revolving around women, immigration and heritage, but Stanescu said the power of laughter is still important in her work.

“There is a folkloric saying in Romania – ‘one eye cries, one eye laughs.’ This is the response that I imagine my plays induce in audiences,” she said.

Stanescu said it is meaningful for her to be included in the festival because women urgently need to have their voices and perspectives heard and only about 20 percent of the plays being produced in big theaters are by women.

4,380 Nights
Playwright Annalisa Dias has directed, performed and produced before, but this is the first play she has written that will have an audience of more than 100 people.

The play “4,380 Nights” tells the story of a man being held without charge at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. The show runs from now through Feb. 18 at the Signature Theatre, located at 4200 Campbell Ave. in Arlington, Va.

Dias said she got the idea for the play in 2013, when she saw a three-sentence blurb in the news about the release of two detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. She said she was surprised to notice people’s “national amnesia” that the facility was still open.

Although the play deals with heavy subject material like historical cycles of violence, Dias said it is still “hopeful” because it imagines a future where people are no longer divided.

Dias said she is “thrilled” to see all the plays the festival will showcase over the next few months because women are vastly underrepresented in the plays that make it to production in American theater.

“A festival where an entire city bands together to shine light on powerful new work by people who identify as women is ideally an important way to move toward a more equitable theater ecology,” she said.

She added that this festival can add to national conversation around women’s empowerment.

“It’s certainly interesting for this festival to take place in this historical moment where public discourse about legacies of oppression is so radically shifting,” Dias said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported in the story and caption that Lathe of Heaven would run at Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center. The play will be showing at the Spooky Action Theater. We regret this error.

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