The Plays by Women series highlights exceptional dramatic literature written by women, from the past and the present, which we hope to see produced on Bay Area stages. These plays feature strong female protagonists and stories that emphasize the universal resonance of women’s lives.
Synopsis & Rationale:
I had the pleasure of seeing the premiere production of Rinne Groff’s The Ruby Sunrise at the 2004 Humana Festival. I was blown away by the story, which illuminates two fascinating moments in America’s cultural and political history, and simultaneously imagines how women who remained “behind the scenes” because limited gender roles may have contributed to the development of both radio and television. The piece contains fantastic roles for actors (including some delicious doubling), highly theatrical staging opportunities that combine live performance with video projection, and a rollicking style that veers from intimate dramatic moments to pyrotechnical explosions to Hepburn & Tracy style banter.
Groff is a New Dramatists’ member playwright whose work has been seen on regional stages throughout the country. Her play Jimmy Carter Was A Democrat was presented by Phoenix Theater in 2005. Berkeley Repertory Theatre produced the world-premiere of Compulsion in their 2010-2011 season. A new one-act play will also be featured in the 2013 Humana Festival.
Ruby Sunrise was inspired by the largely unknown achievements of farm-boy Philo Farnsworth. A self-taught scientist, he developed the first electronic TV system, but General David Sarnoff took the credit. In Act 1, Groff imagines Farnsworth as Ruby, an abused young woman with no home. She comes to the lonely farmhouse of her mother’s old-maid sister and begins her experiments in the barn.
When she has her first break-through, Ruby literally glows with hope: she naively believes that Television will bring world peace! If people all over the world can see each other at work, at school, at play, among their families and loved-ones, how could they ever think of making war?
Act 2 flashes forward 25 years into a Manhattan TV-studio, where actors prepare to perform Ruby’s story live on-camera. It is the Golden Days of Television, and Ruby’s sexy, aggressive daughter, Lulu, has made herself indispensable to foul-mouthed, ruthless TV producer Martin Marcus. She is determined to get her mother’s true story told on TV, despite the challenges of a sexist work environment, the official script-writer’s writing block, and the fact that the lead actress has just been blacklisted.
Groff’s drama has both real human-interest and a lively exposé of the on-going hypocrisies of commercial television. These have changed in form and aspect, but they have only intensified with the passage of time and the desperation for Viewer-Share.
Key elements of synopsis reprinted from Glenn Looney’s Show Notes.
- Act 1: Boarding House in Indiana, 1927
- Act 2: New York City, 1952
7 Roles: 4 Women, 3 Men
Actor #1 (Woman)
- Ruby (Act 1), 17-year-old self-educated scientist who invents technology for television in an Indiana barn
- Elizabeth Hunter (Act 2), acclaimed television actress who is blacklisted
Actor #2 (Man)
- Henry (Act 1), 21-year-old whose love for Ruby carries unexpected consequences
- Paul Benjamin (Act 2), young television actor
Actor #3 (Woman)
- Lois (Act 1), 40’s-50’s, Ruby’s Aunt, runs the boarding house where Ruby is “hiding out”
- Ethel Reed (Act 2), television diva
Actor #4 (Woman)
- Lulu (Act 2), 20’s, script-reader and “production girl”, revealed to be Ruby’s daughter
Actor #5 (Man)
- Tad Rose (Act 2), anxious television writer who gets dramaturgical help from Lulu
Actor #6 (Man)
- Martin Marcus (Act 2), ruthless television producer who gives Lulu her “shot”
Actor #7 (Woman)
- Susie Tyrone (Act 2), vapid starlet hired to play lead in television script
Ruby: Television’s gonna change people. Make a whole different world where people can see the world right in their own homes. Moving pictures in your living room. You’ll get to watch a home run sitting in your favorite chair, see the news as it’s happening. ‘Cause if I can broadcast a single point of light from here to there, then anyone can broadcast the bunch of points of light that make up an image, and send it as far as they care to. Soon, we’ll get pictures from all over the world, and learn about our comrades in other countries, hell, other planets. If we could see their faces, we’d understand them better, and all our differences could be settled around tables, instead of going to war. Television will be the end of war ‘cause who could bear it? Who could bear to see war right in your own living room?
Play is published and Performance Rights are managed by Dramatists Play Service.
Special Edition of the National Screen Actor (1998)
Letter from Lillian Hellman to HUAC Committee (1952)