A WOMB OF ONE'S OWN is Harvard's first sampling of what its creators call "women's theater," i.e. works written, produced, and directed by women about women. As the pioneer of its genre in Harvard theater, the play poses important questions about the educational value of women's theater--and of political art in general. Should women's art simply nurture and celebrate a separate female culture, or must we demand of political art a statement about a specific issue?
A Womb of One's Own attempts to do both. The "evening of works by women" is divided into six skits, the last and best of which is a one-act play by feminist Myrna Lamb entitled, "What Have You Done for Me Lately?", while the others are short vignettes written by four Radcliffe undergraduates. "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" is political art at its best, for it entertains first and instructs second. Lamb's play opens in the recovery room of a hospital as the male patient (Gary Kowalski) awakens to the piercing stare of the female surgeon (Louisa Hufstader). After watching him for several minutes, she reveals the nature of the operation she has just performed: an impregnated uterus has been implanted in his body. Yes, he will experience considerable discomfort, she tells him, "but nothing abnormal"; the pregnancy is expected to go to term.
IN EXCELLENT PERFORMANCES by Kowalski and Hufstader, pregnant patient and principled physician run through the standard arguments for and against abortion. This time, however, the sex roles are reversed: Man is the desperate, powerless victim, and woman the smug, powerful perpetrator. To his cry that he has the right to pursue a career he's worked hard to establish, the feminist surgeon ironically answers that the unborn also have rights and that even one transgression of these rights would set an evil precedent. When he says he'd like to kill her, she replies that often "the impregnated wants to kill the impregnator."
Also "not abnormal" for the pregnant, he asks many times, "Why me?" The audience then learns that doctor and patient had been lovers in college, and that he ended the affair when he learned that she was with child. She then swore revenge and celibacy, and her vow strengthened as she charted his career as a politician who came out against abortion. When she informs him that the hospital has a special committee which will consider his request for termination of the pregnancy, he promises that, given a second chance, he'll be more sympathetic to her cause. He then delivers the line that best captures the theme of the play and the crux of the abortion issue: "For the first time I'm in a position in which I can truly identify."
Lamb's play has an important did actic purpose, and its message comes through clearly and powerfully; the issues raised by the other skits, however, are not as weighty, nor are they expounded as clearly.
"Walking By," for example, is a skit in three parts which are separated by two other vignettes, "Sex Education" and "Being Here Now." Perhaps this was done to allow time for costume changes, but it only succeeds in robbing the skit of unity and an identifiable theme. "Walking By" traces a little girl (Dominique Ghossein) as she grows from the age when she's too old to play with boys to the age when she's old enough to be hassled by a strange man on the street (Bill Crawford). The question arises whether "Walking By" is supposed to be a statement against sex-role stereotyping (part one), treatment of women in the media (part two), anonymous verbal abuse as a metaphor for rape (part three), or all of the above. Any one of these themes surely merits more than a two-minute exposition. "Walking By" comes across as simply a bauble designed to illustrate a few of the realities of women's lives.
Some of the skits feature energetic performances. In "Sex Education," special mention goes to Robin Leidner, who plays Jane's womb, for her narrative of Jane's pregnancy and delivery as seen by a participant. In "Ms. America," Nancy Sinkoff shines in her portrayal of contestant Ms. Harvard, who answers the emcee's question, "What would you be if you grew up?" with "I would like to be president of I.B.M.... Any woman who is energetic, motivated, and intelligent is capable of getting a good job and rising quickly to the top."
DIRECTOR DOWNEY conceived the idea for A Womb of One's Own last year when she read Lamb's play. The results should encourage future feminist productions to match the quality of substance and performance achieved by this cast in "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" for many other women's issues need to be confronted on the stage as well as in other media.