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.
By Elaine Dundy
Recommended by Valerie Weak (Actor)
1962: Comedy Theatre (London)
Synopsis & Rationale:
I found Elaine Dundy through her novel The Dud Avocado (1958), and I learned from the author bio in the back of the book that Dundy had been an actor and was also a playwright. I tracked down a copy of My Place and was struck by the proto-feminist story in this backstage comedy.
Annie is a rising star in London’s West End, currently starring in a hit play. Between apartments, she’s currently using her dressing room as a place to sleep, but keeping that info (as well as all of the particulars of her relationship with Paddy) from her mother. Annie may have an opportunity to move to New York and continue her rise, but she is not sure how that will affect her relationship with Paddy. As Dundy describes the play in her autobiography, Life Itself!:
“During the play Annie makes the discovery, in her own words that ‘I am my own understudy.’ In the end, she can depend on only herself. Annie and Paddy both come from working class backgrounds and neither has made an effort to hide these roots. In addition, their group of peers and friends include a gay theater producer who is not there for laughs or shock value, simply one of the many regular people in their circle of theater types.”
Setting: Annie’s Dressing Room at a West End London Theater
Time: 5 scenes in 2 acts over roughly 1 week in the early 1960s
12 characters, 6W, 6M (opportunities for doubling)
- Annie Fox: A young actress, aged 25, starring in the play being presented at the theatre in which her Dressing-Room is the setting for this play.
- Paddy Kilmartin: Her boyfriend. Also a young star in another play
- The Mother: Annie’s mother
- Sarah Davenport: A friend of Annie’s (a dressmaker). Same age as Annie
- Hue Griffith Mogg: A set designer
- John Crossley: A Labour Candidate
- Willy: A friend of Annie’s
- Henry Rattner: Visitor from America
- Betty Bassett: Paddy’s Agent
- Mrs. Turner: Annie’s dresser
- A Doorman: New to job
- Annie’s Understudy
Paddy (moves back into room and slumps on the divan. Plays with her rose, sulking): I wasn’t going to hit you. (Begins to eat rose petals)
Annie (this speech should be done facing straight out front, in the manner of Comedie Francaise declamation, very quietly, very still, with self-induced tears. Beautifully modulated tone) Do you think I’m all that keen on the idea of New York? I got bounced around there like a ping-pong ball for a year and believe me Americans aren’t the most understanding race in the world. They love you when you love yourself. Once you doubt yourself and need them you are through. I can show you scars to prove it. It runs with the packsville. (Slight movement.) But what can I do? I’m a woman.
(Also DRESSER switches on low, lovely, humming fan under the speech and switches it off at this point)
Look down the cast list of shows on now. See how the men’s parts outnumber the women’s at least three to two every time. God, your play hasn’t even got one woman in it. Neither has Ross. Neither has Beyond the Fringe. And then, maybe I’m not all that easy to cast. My agent’s looking around every day for a good property for me.
I sent an email to Samuel French, who were listed as holders of the rights in the copy of the script I read, and heard nothing back. I’m not sure how one would acquire the rights to produce this play.
Life Itself! By Elaine Dundy