Toni Rae Salmi, left, Karina Hilleard, center, and Rebecca Ellis star in… (Lucas Zuniga/ )
Pinky Swear Productions is kicking off a three-play repertory Friday, with two one-acts by local playwrights Allyson Currin (her “Hercules in Russia” enjoyed its world premiere with Doorway Arts Ensemble last year) and Renee Calarco (a 2013 Helen Hayes Award nominee for “The Religion Thing”) and a two-act by Rachel Axler. The trio of plays — Calarco’s “Bleed,” Currin’s “Benched” and Axler’s “Smudge” — make up “The Unclear Family,” an investigation into the sometimes conflicted and almost-always complicated relationships we have with the people we love. Co-Artistic Director Karen Lange talked with Backstage about identity, parenthood and whether Washington theaters (and theatergoers) are doing enough to support works by women.
How did you select the playwrights to include in the rep?
Every play we’ve done has been by a woman. That’s not the hard-and-fast rule, but it just so happens that the stories we’ve been most excited about happen to have been by women. . . . [And] I do seek them out to a certain extent.
Is that something you feel a responsibility to do? How do you feel about the representation of female playwrights at theaters around Washington?
One of the things that is most important to us as a company, and as professionals in the theater, is to walk the walk. . . . As each season announcement has come out, there’s been this incredible, “Tsk, tsk, all the playwrights are male, almost all the directors are male, and if there are female directors, they’re the artistic directors of that theater.” So we all judge and condemn that. Yet my issue is, instead of tsk-tsking, we [at Pinky Swear] actually make sure that we do something about it, which is to pick plays and weigh them heavily in favor of women. . . . The other thing that’s a little bit maddening is, you do your best to do this choice — this selection of female playwrights, to have female directors — and . . . you go to see other plays by women, and the attendance is very light. You don’t necessarily see these people holding their fist to the sky championing the fact that there should be more female representation. If you don’t show up, it’s not going to happen!
Tell me about “The Unclear Family.” Is there a central thread that runs through all three plays?
These three shows are about: Who makes a family? Who are you beyond just being a mother? And I think that has relevance to a lot of women today, and it can be translated into: Who are you beyond what you do? And how is our identity changed by who we’re with?
Seems like something people in D.C. think about a lot, given that this is the city where the first thing someone asks you at a bar is, “What do you do?”
It’s a very D.C. thing: you’re defined by what you do before you say another word. In Ally Currin’s show, you have three professional women who meet up at the playground where their kids happen to be playing. And you see three degrees: one who is very, very career focused; one who is struggling as a new mother with her identity as a mother versus her identity as it used to be at her career; and the third has made peace with that and found a better balance with things.
“Bleed” and “Smudge” deal with parenting, too, and how your child, or your experience raising a child, can be radically different from what you expected.
The one person in our company who is a mother said she is not sure she would be able to make it through “Smudge” because of the whole idea of having this baby and not being able to bond with it. It is the nightmare that keeps people up at night when they’re considering or are imminently about to have a kid: What if there’s something really wrong with it? . . . With “Bleed,” it is the idea of: Is there something that can happen in your family that could change it so irreparably, you might not make it?
What’s surprised you the most about working on these plays?
A rep is always a big challenge to take on. You think it’s like producing one show, but it’s really like producing three shows at the same time.
Friday to May 19 at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda; 703-943-7656;
Up close with No Rules
No Rules Theatre Company built its first season in residence at Signature Theatre around its opener, “Black Comedy.” Keeping with the theme of the season — “laughter” — the second show is “The Personal(s),” a world premiere by Producing Artistic Director Brian Sutow that’s based on both the Stanley Tucci and Theo van Gogh films called “Blind Date.”
“We did think this was an important follow-up, in terms of showing the range we can do,” Sutow said. “Black Comedy” is a farce, and although “The Personal(s)” also deals with humor, “this is at the opposite end of the spectrum,” he said.
“It’s a story that is a drama about comedy. . . . For this central couple, comedy was such an important coping mechanism and piece of their survival. It’s also, unfortunately, become something of their undoing. So there’s a duplicitousness of comedy.”
Sutow, who grew up with “a parent who was very, very sick for as long as I can remember” has an innate understanding of silliness-as-survival-tactic. “From the time I was talking, I was immediately starting to use comedy [as] a means of coping and survival and making sense out of some of the mysteriousness of the world and some of the unfortunate, unknowable antagonism of the world.”
Wednesday to May 18, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 336-462-9182; norulestheatre.org