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March 1, 2022

Folktales Featuring Women


These aren’t everyday damsels in distress. In many Western folktales, women play a passive role – but there are a handful of stories in which women play central, active parts. Some traditional tales tell the stories of women who work within the boundaries of a rigid hierarchy to achieve their goals. Here’s a collection of plays and musicals, based on folktales, in which women meet challenges with wit, humor and charm.

Bella: An American Tall Tale by Kirsten Childs (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 5f, 7m)
When Bella boards a train west to reunite with her Buffalo soldier sweetheart, she encounters the most colorful and lively characters ever to roam the Western plains. Bullets and fists will fly, heads and hearts will break, but – blessed with a big heart and a voluptuous figure – Bella will breeze on through it all.

Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca, Carmen Zapata & Michael Dewell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 9f, 9m)
This translation of García Lorca’s landmark 1932 play is a classic and passionate lover’s tragedy. In this earthy and poetic drama, a grieving mother arranges the marriage of her only surviving son, setting off a series of conflicts and adventures for the story’s young lovers.

Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 5m)
Sarah Ruhl reimagines the classic myth of Orpheus through the eyes of its heroine. Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice must journey to the underworld, where she reunites with her father and struggles to remember her lost love. With contemporary characters, ingenious plot twists, and breathtaking visual effects, the play is a fresh look at a timeless love story.

Free to Be… You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 2m, 6 any gender)
Life-enhancing themes are imaginatively blended with melody and humor in this inspirational musical revue. In one sequence, the crafty princess Atalanta challenges a would-be suitor to a footrace, and, after keeping apace with the champion, determines her own future.

Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 5f, 3m)
This intriguing and beautiful folk opera delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience. Following two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of immortal King Hades and Lady Persephone — Hadestown invites audiences on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back.

If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka by Tori Sampson (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 2m, 1 any gender)
Combining West African folklore and contemporary American culture, If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must be a Muhfucka follows four teenage girls as they grapple with societal definitions of beauty. In the fictional setting of Affreakah-Amirrorkah, the four young women – Kaya, Massassi, Adama and Akim – are given an opportunity to live in a society where their individual beauty can reign supreme. But this opportunity comes at a dangerous cost.

Is God Is by Aleshea Harris (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 4f, 4m)
Is God Is is a modern myth about twin sisters who sojourn from the Dirty South to the California desert to exact righteous revenge. Winner of the 2016 Relentless Award, Aleshea Harris collides the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western and Afropunk in this darkly funny and unapologetic play.

Jasper in Deadland by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dark Comedy / 4f, 5m)
In one night of teenage passion, Jasper and Agnes consummate a years-long friendship. But in the morning Agnes is gone, telling Jasper to meet her at their cliff. When he arrives there’s no sign of his best friend, only a swirling vortex to another world in the water below. Jasper dives into Deadland.

Lady Precious Stream by S.I. Hsiung (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 8f, 13m)
Lady Precious Stream is a beautiful, romantic drama of love, fidelity, treachery, and poetry presented in the style of traditional Chinese theatre. Set under the Tang Dynasty, the story depicts the devotion of a wife for her adventurous husband, his prowess as a warrior, and his ultimate return home.

Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood by Adam Szymkowicz (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 4m, 6 any gender)
A gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing, hilarious new take on the classic tale. Robin Hood is (and has always been) Maid Marian in disguise, and leads a motley group of Merry Men (few of whom are actually men) against the greedy Prince John. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, who will stand for the vulnerable if not Robin?

Mirror, Mirror by Sarah Treem (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 6m)
In this dark comedy based on Snow White, ten teenagers love, lose, betray and revenge each other over one autumnal weekend in a kingdom far, far away. It’s a precarious landscape where magic lurks behind make-up, mirrors and memories.

Rights of Passage by Robert Leone and Ed Decker (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 6m)
Mixing traditional forms of storytelling, including puppetry, mask and dance, with modern devices such as digital media, the play nimbly explores the struggle that each of us faces in establishing our identity and living in a way that is true to ourselves. From the central story of Wayan’s journey, the play expands to tell true stories of LGBTQ struggles and triumphs from around the world.

Robin Hood by Laura Dockrill, Hugo White and Ned Rudkins-Stow (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 4m)
This hilarious new adaptation, created with a female or non-binary performer in mind for the titular role, is written by acclaimed children’s author Laura Dockrill. Robin Hood returns home to find the greedy Sheriff of Nottingham starving the local people of Sherwood Forest. Courageous, kind and headstrong, Robin, joined by a host of lively friends, sets off on a mission to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Sword Against the Sea by Arthurt Feinsod and William Butler Yeats (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 4f, 4m)
An adaptation of William Butler Yeats’ six one-act plays and some of his most stirring poems about the Celtic hero Cuchulain, arranged in the chronological order of Cuchulain’s life and drawing exclusively on Yeats’ own magnificent poetry. This adaptation calls for collaborations among different kinds of artists in the creation of masks, the use of dance, and the possibility of including instrumental and sung music.

The Hatmaker’s Wife by Lauren Yee (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 3m)
When a young woman moves in with her boyfriend expecting domestic bliss, their new house reveals the magical tale of its previous inhabitants: an old hat-maker and his long-suffering wife, who runs away with his favorite hat. This sweet and surreal story bends time and space to redefine the idea of family, home and true love itself.

The Last of the Dragons by Kristin Walter (US)
(Short Play, Comedy / 2f, 3m, 1m or f)
In the kingdom of Middlefield, there is a tradition: On a princess’ sixteenth birthday, she is tied to a rock, kidnapped by a dragon, rescued by a prince and lives happily ever after. But what happens when the prince is too afraid to fight, the princess wants to do the rescuing by herself, and the dragon is nowhere to be found? Adapted from the story by Edith Nesbit, The Last of the Dragons tells a tale of bravery, intelligence and unexpected friendship.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Eamonn O’Dwyer and Helen Watts (UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 8f, 10m)
Based on Washington Irving’s infamous short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a powerful and atmospheric musical by Helen Watts and Eamonn O’Dwyer. It is a story of community; a story of faith, of blood and belief; a story that asks the simple question: What happens when good people make bad choices?

The River Bride by Marisela Treviño Orta (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 3m)
Three days before a wedding, a handsome and mysterious man is fished from the Amazon River. Set once upon a time in a small Brazilian fishing village, The River Bride is a tale of true love, regret and two sisters who struggle to be true to each other and their hearts.

Witch by Jen Silverman (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 4m)
Mischief is afoot in the sleepy village of Edmonton, and the fate of the world is at stake in this smart modern fable. When the emotionally conflicted son of the local lord and an ambitious newcomer come into conflict, the Devil himself offers help. But while the men take advantage of the Devil’s bargain, someone else in town stands her ground—Elizabeth, an outcast whom everyone believes to be a witch.

Wolf at the Door by Marisela Treviño Orta (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 1m)
Inspired by Latino folklore and mythology, Wolf at the Door is part of a cycle of fairy tales by Marisela Treviño Orta. Isadora finds the strength to stand up to her abusive husband Septimo when he forces the very pregnant Yolot to stay against her will. While Septimo makes plans for the baby, Isadora and Yolot devise one of their own. And as a pack of wolves closes in on the hacienda, Isadora must decide what price she’ll pay for her own freedom.

For more great plays and musicals featuring strong leading women, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2019 Broadway production of Hadestown (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)