Supporting creative work by women
Works by Women interviews director Bridget Leak as two productions she’s directed prepare to open in New York City. Tonight, The Last Yankee by Arthur Miller takes the stage at Theatre Row’s Studio Theater and next month The Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan will be at The Tank.
She speaks about the timeliness of Arthur Miller’s work, the challenges facing women directors and what play she would most love to direct.
BRIDGET LEAK: How contemporary and timeless it feels. It was written in 1992 as a one-act (and then produced as a full-length in 1993), but it feels like it could be set any time. The setting is that of a state run mental institution where we discover three women at various states of depression: verbal, slow, and a woman almost comatose. While depression is easier to diagnose today, there still is a lot of shame about being “institutionalized” or “committed”. Miller captures the sad housewife and sets her before us in a world where she has the opportunity to step away from her home and family and ask the question: is the life I am living fulfilling? A question that is timeless.
WBW: What should audiences expect to see from this show?
BRIDGET: This is a rarely produced and virtually unknown Arthur Miller play that was written much later in his career. In doing research for this play, I found this play to be very autobiographical, Miller had his son, who has Down Syndrome, committed to a mental institution. In the play, you often hear the playwrights voice in some of the characters and wonder, “did he really think that about state run institutions?”
WBW: You received an SDCF Observership. What was that experience like?
BRIDGET: Fantastic. I was the SDCF Observer to Timothy Douglas on his production of The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote. It was the first production to have an all African-American cast, sanctioned by the Foote estate. I had the extreme fortune of working on the co-production between Cleveland Play House and Round House Theatre. It was fantastic to observe a professional freelance regional director doing what I want to do and what I would like to see myself doing in a few years. The production was stunning and so emotionally rich, seeing the story of an elderly woman who just wants to return to the land where she grew up before she dies, but the way that Timothy told that story, unconventionally, provided another layer to an already beautiful script.
WBW: What plays would you like to work on in the future?
BRIDGET: Oddly enough, the next play I would love to direct is another institution play, Mrs. Packard by Emily Mann. Based on the life of Mrs. Packard ad trial Packard vs. Packard. In 1860 Mrs. Packard was committed by her husband to insane asylum, according to state legislature at the time a husband or a brother could commit a woman without consulting a medical professional. In the play the story of the trial and her three years at the asylum unfold simultaneously. It is a much darker play than The Last Yankee, but another glimpse of Americana.
WBW: What’s next for you?
BRIDGET: I am currently in rehearsal for Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan. Based on true events of the Magdalene Laundries, these laundries were created by the Catholic Church as a place full for ‘fallen’ women who have had their babies snatched from them at birth to be given up for adoption, the fallen women then were forced to do laundry in awful conditions as a way to earn their keep. The production opens at the Tank at the end of September. In October, I will be at the Watermill Center in South Hampton for twelve days with my team of three actors, one designer, and a playwright to devise a play about tragedies that occur on college campuses calling on our own personal experiences and research.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
BRIDGET: I think the greatest hurdle is the pressure for women to have to go to grad school to qualify their talents. I have a MFA but I also went to a program where all the directors in my year were women. I feel like it’s hard for women to get their foot in the door in any male dominate field, but especially one that talent based. I think having my MFA has definitely advanced my career, but when I look at men who are at the same level as I am, they don’t have MFAs, they were able to get assisting positions without it, whereas being a women I was hired to assist only after I obtained a higher degree.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
BRIDGET: That there are women like Pam MacKinnon, Emily Mann, and Lynne Meadow directing on Broadway, paving the way for directors like myself.
The Last Yankee by Arthur Miller, directed by Bridget Leak, continues through September 8th at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Ave). Tickets are $18 at Telecharge’s web site.