The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern of Durham, NC will present the world premiere of What Every Girl Should Know, Durham actress, writer, and dramatist Monica Byrne’s provocative new play about four Catholic teenage turn-of-the-century reform-school girls who become suffragettes and idolize social reformer and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), on April 19-21 and 26-28 and May 3-5 at the Cordoba Center for the Arts (behind Golden Belt) in downtown Durham, NC. (“What Every Girl Should Know” takes its name from a controversial pamphlet on sexual hygiene that Sanger penned in 1916.)
The show is set in St. Mary’s House, a Catholic reformatory for girls and boys, on New York’s Lower East Side in the Fall of 1914, when the Guns of August had just started to thunder in Europe. The play’s characters include three 15-year-olds — (played by Skylar Gudasz), Anne (Carolyn McDaniel), and Theresa (Marie Garlock) — and a 14-year-old — Lucy (Alice Rose Turner).
“Two years ago, [Little Green Pig artistic director] Jay [O’Berski] commissioned me to write a play about Margaret Sanger,” explains Monica Byrne. “He felt she’d gotten short shrift in terms of works of art devoted to her. I’d already been thinking about writing a play based on my group of friends when I was 11, with whom I created a fantasy life where we traveled the world and married our celebrity boyfriends and killed people we didn’t like. So, I asked if I could bypass the traditional biopic route and show Margaret Sanger’s influence on four young Catholic women living in 1914. That’s how it started.
She adds, “We had two private readings, one with the actors we’d cast. It was a wonderful opportunity, because I could revise their characters based on the actors’ personalities and quirks. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone else playing those roles, though of course I hope others will in the longer lifetime of the play. Other than that, it was just a matter of passing drafts back and forth between me, Jay [O’Berski], [director] Lucius [Robinson], and other readers like my sister Julie [Byrne], who is (conveniently) a scholar of American Catholicism.”
When the curtain rises on What Every Girl Should Know, playwright Monica Byrne says, “Three young women in a Catholic reformatory, in 1914, on the Lower East Side, deal with the loss of their bedmate who died from mysterious blood loss. When another [girl] comes to take her place, they’re initially hostile. But eventually she wins them over, especially with all of the Margaret Sanger birth-control contraband she’s smuggled in.
“The four build an elaborate fantasy life where they travel the world, take lovers at will, and assassinate their enemies,” says Byrne. “However, one of them becomes pregnant, which calls into question the relationship between their fantasy world and the real one.”
Ironically, Byrne notes, “The fantasy life that these four girls have is the life that I have now. I do travel the world; I do have control over my body; I do date whoever I want to.”
In addition to playwright Monica Byrne and director Lucius Robinson, the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern creative team for What Every Girl Should Know includes producers Jeffrey Detwiler and Dana Marks, choreographer Clare Byrne, lighting designer Steve Tell, costume designer Chelsea Kurtzman, and stage manager Kiernan McGowan. Lucius Robinson, Steve Tell, and Kiernan McGowan share credit for the set design for this world-premiere production, which is being partially underwritten by Jeffrey McIntyre.
Monica Byrne says the set consists of “Four beds, saint icons, a cross, [and] a rug[, located in the] far back corner of the Cordoba Center for the Arts.”
“I think my primary challenge as a playwright, writing the script, was to sustain momentum and intensity in what is very much a chamber piece — one room, four characters, four arcs,” says dramatist Monica Byrne.
She told Triangle Theater Review that the reason that What Every Girl Should Know is set in the Fall of 1914 is that in October of that year, Margaret Sanger jumped bail and fled to first to Montreal, Canada, and then to England. Sanger had previously worked as a nurse in New York’s Lower East Side.
In America in the Good Old Days, circa 1914, says Monica Byrne, “Things sucked for women. It wasn’t a Catholic issue particularly…. Margaret Sanger was arrested for violating the Comstock laws, which made even talking about birth control obscene.”
Byrne adds, “if there’s a message that I want to convey in , it is that women are human. It’s something that sounds obvious.” But for much of the 20th century, women’s access to safe and reliable forms of contraception was severely curtailed.
“When I wrote this play,” Monica Byrne reveals, “I was listening to Jane’s Addiction. So, my sister Clare choreographed the play’s dances to Jane’s Addiction.”
Byrne adds, “Dance is an integral part of What Every Girl Should Know. That’s one of the ways that the girls express prayer after they ‘canonize’ Margaret Sanger as a saint in the Catholic Church….
“To me,” Monica Byrne says, “Jane’s Addiction totally communicates the rawness of adolescence. These girls are feeling something that they haven’t felt before, something that was coming from Margaret Sanger, who was saying that girls needed to know themselves…. So, they adopted her as their patron saint.”
She says the Jane’s Addiction songs that provide the soundtrack for What Every Girl Should Know include “Ocean Size,” “Three Days,” Been Caught Stealin,” “Jane Says,” “I Would for You,” “Summertime Rolls,” and then She Did….”
SECOND OPINION: April 19th Durham, NC Duke Chronicle preview by Josh Stillman: http://dukechronicle.com/article/little-green-pig-dramatizes-womens-rights-movement; and April 18th Durham, NC Independent Weekly mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/what-every-girl-should-know/Event?oid=2988923.
The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents WHAT EVERY GIRL SHOULD KNOW, a world premiere by Monica Byrne, at 8 p.m. April 19-21 and 26-28 and May 3-5 at the Cordoba Center for the Arts, 923 Franklin St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $15 Thursday ($13 seniors and active-duty military personnel) and $17 Friday and Saturday ($15 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $5 for all shows for students with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-452-2304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://vimeo.com/38414623.
The Play: http://www.monicabyrne.org/plays.html (official web page).
The Playwright: http://www.monicabyrne.org/ (official website) and http://monicacatherine.wordpress.com/ (her blog).
Margaret Sanger: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger (Wikipedia).
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