In Portrait: The Women Playwrights Giving Broadway a Moral Compass
Playwrights Lynn Nottage, Anna Deavere Smith, and Paula Vogel, photographed at the Cort Theatre, in New York City. Photograph by Mark Sch fer.
I wanted to write a new play, explains the playwright at the center of Paula Vogel s Indecent, that posed contemporary moral questions, that forced us to face some uncomfortable truths. Vogel s inventive portrayal of a 20th-century Yiddish theater troupe struggling with controversial material does just that, as do Anna Deavere Smith s Notes from the Field and Lynn Nottage s Sweat, for which Nottage received the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Smith, who famously crafted a new genre out of the one-woman show, seeks to personalize the headlines by making us reflect on our propensity to pathologize. In Notes from the Field, she becomes a young black man from Baltimore who dismantles a police car; the girl who took video footage of her classmate being tossed out of her chair by a security officer in South Carolina; Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund; and so many more. The lives of the marginalized and misunderstood also take center stage in Nottage s Sweat, about an economically depressed Rust Belt town. Through a trio of female factory workers, the play perfectly transmits the gut-level betrayal many Americans feel when they are pushed aside for cheaper labor after a lifetime of company loyalty.
Whether these unique missives of oppression and loss come from a Polish ghetto or a Pennsylvania bar, they give complex issues the complex voices they so richly deserve. (Which should come as no surprise among them, these playwrights already have two MacArthur Fellows Program awards and three Pulitzers.) Oscar, Sweat s overlooked Hispanic barback, puts it well: If they don t see me, I don t need to see them. Just when you think your eyes are open, Vogel, Smith, and Nottage open them even wider.
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