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February 25, 2021

Beyond the Ingenue: 30 Plays for Powerful Women


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The ingenue has her time and place, but women’s stories extend beyond tales of young innocents. Check out these 30 titles featuring strong women ranging in age, temperament and position.


4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 3w, 1m)
After suffering a major loss while he was on a cross-country bike trip, 21 year-old Leo seeks solace from his feisty 91 year-old grandmother Vera in her West Village apartment. Over the course of a single month, these unlikely roommates infuriate, bewilder, and ultimately reach each other. 4000 MILES looks at how two outsiders find their way in today’s world.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5w)
It’s 1956 and The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are having their annual quiche breakfast. As the assembled “widows” await the announcement of the society’s prize-winning quiche, the atomic bomb sirens sound! Has the Communist threat come to pass? How will the “widows” respond as their idyllic town and lifestyle faces attacks? A tasty recipe of hysterical laughs, sexual innuendoes, unsuccessful repressions, and delicious discoveries.

A Very Rich Woman by Ruth Gordon (US)
(Comedy / 8w, 7m)
Ruth Gordon played the part of a Boston widow with a rather common background, who together with her husband built an enviable fortune the hard way. Being a very spirited widow, she now decides to have a fine old time with her money, giving away “diamonds, paintings, and taxi-cabs with fierce abandon, and buying an oversize yacht as if it were a boat for the bathtub.” (N.Y. Daily News). But she has two lacquered daughters, her own Regan and Goneril, who are covetous of the family fortune and resent the manner in which she is enjoying it. They have her committed to a sanitarium, but miss a bet when they think that will hold the old gal. She reaches into her own passel of friends and has herself declared “unincompetent,” and returns home still in control of her wealth.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5w, 2m)
Fussy, cantankerous novelist Charles Condomine is re-married but haunted (literally) by the ghost of his late first wife, the clever and insistent Elvira who is called up by a visiting “happy medium,” one Madame Arcati. As the (worldly and un-) personalities clash, Charles’ current wife, Ruth, is accidentally killed, “passes over,” joins Elvira, and the two “blithe spirits” haunt the hapless Charles into perpetuity.

Breadcrumbs by Jennifer Haley (US/UK)
(Drama / 2w)
A reclusive fiction writer diagnosed with dementia must depend upon a troubled young caretaker to complete her autobiography. In a symbiotic battle of wills, they delve into the dark woods of the past, unearthing a tragedy that shatters their notions of language, loneliness, and essential self.

Chasing Manet by Tina Howe (US/UK)
(Comedy / 4w, 3m)
A rebellious painter from a distinguished family in Boston and an ebullient Jewish woman with a huge adoring family form an unlikely bond. Inside the confining walls of Mount Airy Nursing Home, the two plot an escape to Paris aboard the QE2. But can they possibly pull it off amidst the chaos of their surroundings? The tension and comedy grow as they struggle to take wing for the last time.

The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 4w, 1m)
Three Jewish widows meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves. Ida is sweet tempered and ready to begin a new life; Lucille is a feisty embodiment of the girl who just wants to have fun; and Doris is priggish and judgmental, particularly when Sam the butcher enters the scene. He meets the widows while visiting his wife’s grave. Doris and Lucille squash the budding romance between Sam and Ida. They are guilt-stricken when this nearly breaks Ida’s heart.

The City of Conversation by Anthony Giardina (US/UK)
(Drama / 4w, 4m, 1 boy)
In 1979, Washington D.C. was a place where people actually talked to each other…where adversaries fought it out on the Senate floor and then smoothed it out over drinks and hors d’oeuvres. But it was all about to change. In this play spanning 30 years and six presidential administrations, Hester Ferris throws Georgetown dinner parties that can change the course of Washington’s politics. But when her beloved son suddenly turns up with an ambitious Reaganite girlfriend and a shocking new conservative world view, Hester must choose between preserving her family and defending the causes she’s spent her whole life fighting for.

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter (US)
(Drama / 1w, 3m)
A musical drama of Judy Garland’s “come-back” concerts Christmas 1968: with a six-week booking at London’s Talk of the Town, it looks like Judy Garland is set firmly on the comeback trail. The failed marriages, the suicide attempts, and the addictions are all behind her. At forty-six and with new flame Mickey Deans at her side, she seems determined to carry it off and recapture her magic. But lasting happiness always eludes some people, and there was never any answer to the question with which Judy ended every show: “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why, can’t I?” A savagely funny drama featuring a glorious ensemble of Judy Garland hits and infused with the glamour and the melancholy of stardom.

Golda’s Balcony by William Gibson (US)
(Drama / 1w)
This tight-knit story of war and peace opens in 1973, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, and uses flashbacks to let Golda tell the story of her life: her journey from her birthplace in Russia to the United States where she settled in Milwaukee, became a school teacher and married. She describes her role as a socialist Zionist, her emigra
tion to Palestine in 1921, the birth of her two children and the breakup of her marriage. These details form an intriguing backdrop for a dramatic look at idealism, power and the strength it takes to shape the destiny of a nation.

Grace & Glorie by Tom Ziegler (US)
(Comedy / 2w)
Estelle Parsons and Lucie Arnaz starred on Broadway in this charmer set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Grace, a feisty 90-year-old cancer patient, has checked herself out of the hospital and returned to her beloved homestead cottage to die alone. Her volunteer hospice worker, Glorie, is a Harvard MBA recently transplanted to this rural backwater from New York. Glorie is tense, unhappy and guilt-ridden, her only child having been killed in an auto accident when she was driving. As she attempts to care for and comfort the cantankerous Grace, the sophisticated Glorie gains new perspectives on values and life’s highs and lows.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Comedy / 4w, 4m)
At a dinner party in New Jersey, two couples discuss polyamory as brought up by the introduction of a new temp, Pip, in Jane’s office. When they invite Pip and her two male partners, discussion turns to action and the exploration of unexplored desire turns animalistic, and then Jane’s daughter sees it all. How to Transcend a Happy Marriage blurs the lines of monogamy and asks how deeply friends, lovers, and strangers connect.

Hurricane Diane by Madeleine George (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5w)
Meet Diane, a permaculture gardener dripping with butch charm. She’s got supernatural abilities owing to her true identity—the Greek god Dionysus—and she’s returned to the modern world to gather mortal followers and restore the Earth to its natural state. Where better to begin than with four housewives in a suburban New Jersey cul-de-sac? A hilarious evisceration of the blind eye we all turn to climate change and the bacchanalian catharsis that awaits us, even in our own backyards.

Legends! by James Kirkwood (US)
(Comedy / 3w, 3m)
Eager beaver producer Martin Klemmer, a wheeler-dealer if ever there was one, has uncovered a terrific commercial script – ‘Star Wars: The Play’. Since he has produced only one off-Broadway project, something called ‘Craps!’, Martin’s calls are not being returned by the powerful Broadway magnates capable of getting this play to the Great White Way. Martin needs names, names like film legends Sylvia Glenn and Leatrice Monsee, for the leads. If Martin can sign them he can get the money. Unfortunately, they hate each other. Will Martin be able to resolve this titanic dilemma? Will ‘Star Wars: The Play’ hit the big time? And, if Sylvia and Leatrice do agree to appear together, will Paul Newman sign on, too? A hilarious, touching play.

Lettice and Lovage by Peter Shaffer (US/UK)
(Comedy / 3w, 3m)
Lettice Duffet, an expert on Elizabethan cuisine and medieval weaponry, is an indefatigable but daffy enthusiast of history and the theatre. As a tour guide at Fustian House, one of the least stately of London’s stately homes, she theatrically embellishes its historical past, ultimately coming up on the radar of Lotte Schon, an inspector from the Preservation Trust. Neither impressed or entertained by Lettice’s freewheeling history lessons, Schon fires her. Not one to go without a fight, Lettice engages the stoic, conventional Lotte in a battle to the death of all that is sacred to the Empire and the crown.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson (US/UK)
(Drama / 2w, 8m)
It’s 1927 in a rundown studio in Chicago where Ma Rainey is recording new sides of old favorites. More goes down in the session than music in this riveting portrayal of rage, racism, the self-hate, and exploitation.

Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison (US/UK)
(Drama / 2w, 2m)
It’s the age of artificial intelligence, and 85-year-old Marjorie — a jumble of disparate, fading memories — has a handsome new companion who’s programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance? In this richly spare, wondrous new play, Jordan Harrison explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits — if any — of what technology can replace.

Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts (US/UK)
(Drama / 11w, 6m, 1 girl)
Mary Page Marlowe leads an unremarkable life. As an accountant in Ohio with two children, few would expect her life to be inordinately intricate or moving. However, it is choices, both mundane and gripping, and where those choices have taken Mary Page Marlowe that make her life so intimate and surprisingly complicated.

The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder (US/UK)
(Comedy / 7w, 9m)
Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy merchant in nineteenth-century Yonkers, NY, decides to take a wife and employs a matchmaker, Mrs. Dolly Levi. Dolly subsequently becomes involved with two of Vandergelder’s clerks, several lovely ladies, and the headwaiter at an expensive restaurant where this swift farce runs headlong into hilarious complications. After everyone gets straightened out romantically, Vandergelder finds himself affianced to the astute Dolly Levi herself.

Nana’s Naughty Knickers by Katherine DiSavino (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5w, 3m, 1m or f)
Bridget and her grandmother are about to become roommates. However, what Bridget saw as a unique opportunity to stay with her favorite Nana in New York for the summer quickly turns into an experience she’ll never forget. It seems her sweet grandma is running an illegal boutique from her apartment, selling handmade naughty knickers to every senior citizen in the five-borough area! Will Bridget be able to handle all the excitement? Will her nana get arrested – or worse – evicted?

The Odd Couple, Female Version by Neil Simon (US/UK)
(Comedy / 6w, 2m)
Unger and Madison are at it again! Florence Unger and Olive Madison, that is, in Neil Simon’s hilarious contemporary comic classic: the female version of The Odd Couple. Instead of the poker party that begins the original version, Ms. Madison has invited the girls over for an evening of Trivial Pursuit. The Pidgeon sisters have been replaced by the two Constanzuela brothers. But the hilarity remains the same.

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (US/UK)
(Drama / 3w, 5m)
It is 1936, and Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from the South in a battered truck loaded with watermelons to sell. He has an opportunity to buy some land down-home, but he has to come up with the money right quick. He wants to sell an old piano that has been in his family for generations, but he shares ownership with his sister and it sits in her living room. She has already rejected several offers because the antique piano is covered with incredible carvings detailing the family’s rise from slavery. Boy Willie tries to persuade his stubborn sister that the past is past, but she is more formidable than he anticipated.

Rest by Samuel D. Hunter (US/UK)
(Drama / 3w, 4m)
A retirement home in northern Idaho is being shut down, and only three residents and a bare-bones staff remain. When a record-breaking blizzard blows into town and an elderly resident disappears into the storm, everyone is brought to face their own mortality.

The Roommate by Jen Silverman (US/UK)
(Dark Comedy / 2w)
Sharon, in her mid-fifties, is recently divorced and needs a roommate to share her Iowa home. Robyn, also in her mid-fifties, needs a place to hide and a chance to start over. But as Sharon begins to uncover Robyn’s secrets, they encourage her own deep-seated desire to transform her life completely. A dark comedy about what it takes to re-route your life – and what happens when the wheels come off.

Rose and Walsh by Neil Simon (US/UK)
(Comedy / 2w, 2m)
At a beautiful beach house on the tip of Long Island, Rose, a celebrated but near penniless author, receives nightly visits from Walsh, the love of her life and a famous writer himself. Now Walsh must go away forever, but not before securing Rose’s financial future with an extraordinary proposal that promises to change everything.

Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Comedy / 3w, 4m)
Art imitates Life. Life imitates Art. When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them offstage. Stage Kiss captures Sarah Ruhl’s singular voice. It is a charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss—or when actors share a real one.

Single Black Female by Lisa. B. Thompson (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 2w)
A two-woman show with rapid-fire comic vignettes that explore the lives of thirty-something African American middle-class women in urban America as they search for love, clothes, and dignity in a world that fails to recognize them amongst a parade of stereotypical images. SBF 1, an English literature professor, and SBF 2, a corporate lawyer, keep each other balanced as they face their fears of rejection, hopes for romance, and reminisce about black girlhood wounds. While embodying a variety of characters, the girlfriends discuss the absurdities of interracial dating, the lure of recreational shopping, and the merits of college reunions for bolstering one’s self-esteem. After reviewing their escapades in past relationships and confessing their own mounting anxieties about commitment and the possibility of motherhood, the pair realize their best chance at love may be found closer than they ever imagined.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks by Richard Alfieri (US/UK)
(Comedy / 1w, 1m)
Lily, an aging but formidable retiree, hires Michael, an acerbic dance instructor, to give her dance lessons in her condo in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. Antagonism between a gay man and the wife of a Southern Baptist minister gives way to profound compatibility as they swing dance, tango, foxtrot, and cha-cha while sharing barbs and intimacies along with the dance steps. During the sixth lesson, Lily reveals a closely guarded secret — she is terminally ill — and Michael shares his greatest gifts — loyalty and compassion. As Michael takes Lily in his arms on their final meeting, they both transcend fear and mortality while the sun sets on their last dance.

The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan (US/UK)
(Comedy / 2w, 3m)
Gladys, the elderly matriarch of the Green family, has run an art gallery in a small Greenwich Village hotel for many years. The management wants to replace her less-than-thriving gallery with a coffee shop. Always irascible but now increasingly erratic, Gladys is a cause of concern to her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandson, from whose point of view this poignant memory play is told. A wacky and heartrending look at the effect of senility on a family,

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (US)
(Drama / 1w)
In this dramatic adaptation of her award-winning, bestselling memoir (which The New York Times called “an indelible portrait of loss and grief…a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage), Joan Didion transforms the story of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and their only daughter into a stunning and powerful one-woman play.


For even more plays that go beyond the ingenue visit our website. In the US/North America, click here. In the UK/Europe, click here.

Header image: Broadway production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson (Julieta Cervantes)