Plays

THE MARBLE MUSE

2 M      4 W

Based on the untold true story.

Rome, Italy—1858:  Defying convention, Louisa Lander, a young American from Salem, Massachusetts, is struggling to establish a career in sculpture—of all the arts, traditionally viewed as the most masculine—and to overcome the resentment of the male Anglo-American sculpting community in Rome at her attempts to break into their world.  But her luck appears to change when another native of Salem, famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne, comes to visit the Eternal City with his family and agrees to sit for her.  The art establishment is shocked that such an important commission should go to a relative unknown—and a woman at that—but Hawthorne is motivated by more than admiration for Lander’s talent: he has been captivated by her uncanny resemblance to Hester Prynne, the heroine of his finest novel, The Scarlet Letter.  Now middle-aged and his writing career stagnant, Hawthorne sees in Lander a sign that she is perhaps meant to be his muse for a new literary endeavor.  Inspired, he embarks upon a book, The Marble Faun, with sculpture at its heart and with a female protagonist modeled upon Lander.  Thus, the two encircle each other, Lander sculpting Hawthorne in clay, he sculpting her in words, each of them intent on capturing the other in a masterpiece, until they, like characters from one of his own novels, gradually fall into forbidden love.  But not even the sunny skies of Italy can dispel the shadows of Salem, and the Anglo-Americans in Rome are watching, especially William Wetmore Story, a rival sculptor also from the old Massachusetts witch town, who feels that the Hawthorne commission should have gone to him instead and whose jealousy towards Lander sends him in search of a way to destroy her.

The Marble Muse is a tale of how rumors can utterly destroy not only a life, but a legacy, and how great art—especially by women—too often never gets to see the light of day.

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THE WISDOM OF SERPENTS

7 M      5 W

Hildegard von Bingen is a woman for all seasons.  A real-life German poet, composer, healer, mystic, and founder of a great monastery, she has personally been given leave by the pope to go out and preach like a man, and, as the year 1178 dawns, she is one of the most influential personalities of her era, counting many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, among her friends.

Yet a woman in such a position of power is bound to have enemies, and Hildegard’s penchant for telling the truth, especially about the corruption of the clergy, has made her more than a few.  When she grants sanctuary to a heretic knight and refuses the demands of both church and state to relinquish him to their harsh justice, all that she has achieved and her life itself are jeopardized by the determination of her enemies to finally destroy her.  Centuries before Sir Thomas More defied a monarch on the basis of personal conscience, a woman had already done so, taking a lonely stand against the might of king and clergy combined.  Part rousing adventure, part courtroom drama, The Wisdom of Serpents pits the call of personal conscience against the claims of conventional society, and the honor of a lone woman against the combined forces of the patriarchy. Based on a true story.

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RAKE

5 M      1 W

April in Paris, and love is in the air.  But so are death and destruction.  It is 1944, and Europe still lies prostrate beneath the jackboots of Nazi Germany.  The Allies have yet to land for D-Day, but from the very beginning of World War II, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) has had agents behind enemy lines, gathering information, sabotaging railways, and carrying out guerilla attacks.  Its people come from all walks of life, but Denis Rake, defiantly gay in an era when homosexuality is a criminal offense, is one in a million.

Given away by his opera-singing mother to a traveling circus when he was but three years old, Rake is both literally and figuratively an expert at walking a tightrope in a society that condemns his lifestyle.  Yet when war breaks out, he is determined to serve his country, even if his country doesn’t particularly want him to.  A successful London actor, he knows more than most that all the world is a stage, and when his theatre connections bring him to the attention of the SOE, it is not long before he is sent off to play on the greatest stage of all: Occupied Europe.  Posing as the female chanteuse L’Hirondelle by night, working as a man with American OSS officer Virginia Hall by day, Rake’s life is dangerous enough as he helps prepare for the coming Allied invasion, but when Max Halder, a gay German officer, falls for him, the stakes soar even higher.

Inspired by the real-life wartime service of Denis Rake, RAKE explores whether human beings—gay or straight—should give all for country . . . or for love.

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THE LION’S SHARE

8 M      2 W

1490, and Lorenzo de’ Medici, the humanist ruler of the Republic of Florence, is presiding over the most glorious years of Renaissance Italy.  A scholar, philosopher, and poet himself, brought up in the tradition of the Greek Academy, he has spent his life determined to make Florence a “new Athens”.  Though he keeps close watch over Medici interests, he nevertheless champions both philosophical debate and artistic freedom and offers refuge to painters, sculptors, scholars, heretics, homosexuals and others, whose beliefs or lifestyles are at odds with societal norms elsewhere.  With the painter Botticelli as one of his closest friends and the nascent sculptor Michelangelo as his newly adopted son, Lorenzo gives no mere lip service to his beliefs, but acts to make them a reality.

Yet his progressive views have brought him a great enemy: the fundamentalist monk Girolamo Savonarola.  Claiming to have the gift of prophecy, Savonarola begins a crusade against what he views as the decadence of the era and against the man and the place that he deems most emblematic of it all: Lorenzo de’ Medici and his Florence.  Preaching damnation to all who disagree with his views, Savonarola tries to take advantage of the city’s vaunted openness to attempt to destroy Lorenzo, the very man who has allowed Savonarola freedom of speech.  A charismatic preacher, Savonarola soon holds the people in thrall, eventually including even some of the artists and scholars whom Lorenzo has sheltered.  A titanic struggle is on, pitting Lorenzo’s humanist principles against Savonarola’s rigid theology—and Savonarola seems to be winning.  A parable for our times, The Lion’s Share examines the importance of art to the human condition and how the tolerance of intolerance can destroy even the mightiest of societies.  Based on a true story.

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THE DRAGON’S TEETH

9 M

Just when does one man’s patriot become another man’s terrorist? Aidan O’Donovan, head of the Irish Republican Army’s Northern Command regards himself as a freedom fighter. After all, if a man is denied the right to vote or to own property or even to obtain an education, how else can he change the status quo except through violence? But Sean, Aidan’s younger brother, believes that Aidan is going too far. When the elder O’Donovan goes to IRA headquarters in Dublin with a plan for a massive raid on a government munitions dump, Sean knows it could all go terribly wrong. A tale of betrayal and personal courage, The Dragon’s Teethis an investigation of the fanaticism that drives men to kill and how the chaos of violence is planted in one generation after another, not only in Ireland, but in societies around the world.

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THE FENCING LESSON

4 M      2 W

Chicago fencing coach Catherine Quellor was once on top of the world.  America’s premier foil fencer, she was a veritable warrior woman, a fearless sword-fighter seemingly straight from the pages of myth and legend.  But a brutal assault two weeks before the Olympic Games shattered her dreams of glory and devastated her in both body and soul.  Now, twelve years later, few of her physical scars are visible to the athletes training at her fencing academy, but a long-smoldering rage at the un-avenged violence done to her needs only a spark to set it ablaze.

Meanwhile, Kelvin Carter, a black teenager from the tough streets of Chicago, also has much to be enraged about.  With a mother lost in childbirth and a father killed in Afghanistan, Kelvin has become ensnared in the criminal world of his cousin Jacko after he helps to cover up Jacko’s attack on a young woman.  When a judge’s creative sentencing sends Kelvin to Catherine’s fencing academy, her personal demons are resurrected and she seeks her vengeance at the point of a sword.  Dealing with issues of race and gender, The Fencing Lesson explores the devastating effects of violence on young and old, black and white, male and female.

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