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February 29, 2012


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Top Girls IS about a failed mother. That's kind of the whole point. It's complex and moving too, and explores what motherhood means to society (esp. work/life balance for women) but it's still about a failed mother.

Also, who wants to watch a play about a really good mom who's work/life balance is perfect and whose children are well adjusted etc.? Bring a book. A play needs drama.

Not for nothing, but I wrote a play about motherhood. It scares the bejesus out of people.


This is really a great question. I think there are a couple of different forces at work here.

1. There probably are more great plays about motherhood than you think, but they don't produced or revived very often. For pretty much all of the obvious reasons: most of the people in charge of production decisions are men and are less focused on what a lot of people think of as a "woman's" issues.

2. The economics of theatre force a lot of people out as they get older, and, in particular, when a younger artist has a child, it usually means sidelining writing for some time. Raising kids is time-consuming, for both parents. It's simply harder to find the time to write (at least that's what I hear from my friends).

3. I disagree, Josh, that a great play needs to be about a great mother. It can be about a complicated mother. Parents, in our plays, do tend to get lumped into either Bad or Disappointing. Some of that is the nature of drama (letdowns are more dramatic than successes), but some of that is, again, having a field that is driven by younger artists. We get a lot of "working out my issues" plays and not a lot of "absorb the complexity" plays.

I'm often surprised at how inviolate the mother relationship is. I've written some terrible mothers in my time and people always seem to pull back more from them than the terrible dads. There is some thing that we whitewash or consider holy about mothers, sticking them in the position of constant abuse or turning them into unrecognizable monsters. A complicated mother seems a bridge too far, somehow.


99, you misread my point: it was exactly the opposite. Who wants to see a play about a great mom with all her ducks in a row?


Perhaps one reason for the lack of plays about motherhood is that it is very, very difficult to portray babies/young children onstage? Because of this, many plays that discuss a mother-child relationship end up being about middle-aged mothers and teenage children -- and such plays can often feel more like they're about Teenagers These Days rather than Motherhood These Days. I feel like in order to write the kind of play about motherhood that the author of this article desires -- a "feisty young woman" as protagonist, "a complex, interesting, moving response to the issues that surround what becoming a mother means to society" -- you would need to write a play about a young-ish mother with small children. But the nature of live theatrical performance makes that very difficult to produce. The children end up having to be off-stage characters, which makes the character of the mother seem absent or neglectful, because you can't show a scene of her interacting with the young child.

August Schulenburg

Josh, I just wrote a play about motherhood, too, called THE HAND THAT MOVES:


One thing may be that plays that feature motherhood as a primary focus usually have to make the children grown to avoid having to work with child actors. I got around this by having the young kids of THTM be puppets, which allows me to treat those kids in a way I never could if they were real children:) I haven't sent the play out much yet - been focused on other plays - but I'll be curious to see if it works, and how it will be received...


August, I got around that problem too. My 11-year-old is played by a hulking adult man in a tiny soccer uniform.


I hear the comments about casting young actors. It's tough for numerous reasons, but it can be done. We're producing a show starting in March which is about TWO moms and their 8-year-old daughter. The daughter is played by a 12-year-old who is fantastic. You can get a bit more about it here:


We've never had a young actor in a show before, but so far it's been really smooth sailing.


I'll be sure to come see it, Rob!


Dope! Thanks Marissa! I'll be at shows so if you have a sec, please say hi. Also, we just finished this tonight and are stoked about it:


Malachy Walsh

I wrote a play recently about a mother daughter relationship. In the Bay Area where it's eligible for a $10,000 production grant I can't get one theatre to even read it.

Lisa Loomer regularly writes about families with the subject of motherhood front and center.

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