Graham Watts, director and producer of this “lost” play by prolific playwright Sophie Treadwell – credited with writing more plays than Shakespeare, including her most famous work “Machinal” – cites in the programme his admirable ambition to produce plays through the ages by eminent female writers whose works have been ignored specifically for their author’s gender as his ongoing mission. To this end he directed the acclaimed world premiere of Margaret Cavendish’s “The Unnatural Tragedy” last summer; this time choosing this all American kitchen sink style drama of Sophie Treadwell’s “Garry” a contemporary 1950’s comment on society’s view of both homosexuality and a woman’s place in it.
Garry was written in June, 1954 – exactly 65 years ago. Contextually, this was the year Alan Turing committed suicide and “the teenager” as a concept was born; housewives were supposed to be exactly that and support their husband no matter what and there were very specific societal codes to adhere to.
Set against a backdrop of 1950s America the play is a fascinating character study ahead of its time with subversive themes of murder, spousal rape, a Freudian Oedipus complex, prostitution as a happy career choice, sexual assault and, most strikingly, latent homosexuality in its lead male character.
The set and costume design by Emma Therese Boomer gave us a realistic snapshot of the era, and the cast of four gave credible performances as human characters caught up in ultimately tragic circumstances brought about chiefly through the prejudice and constraints of the time and how it mentally affected them and their actions.
Phebe Alys gave us a winsome and empathetic performance as poor, deluded, loyal to a fault Wilma, and Thomas Martin in the title role was suitably menacing and morally compromised by his criminal past and non acceptance of his sexuality and emotions.
Claire Bowman added a comedic element as a confident prostitute in charge of her own destiny, with strong convictions and Matthew Wellard was particularly effective as sympathetic journalist Dave, garnering our sympathy as his thwarted attempts at wooing Wilma and saving her from the clutches of wayward Garry unfurled.
The accents were a bit hit and miss on occasion which was distracting and some of the stage direction was odd given the constraints of the space, whereby it became incredulous for example at one point that Wilma and Dave did not realise that Garry was closely watching them in the same room; at another point the stage was left empty for an uncomfortably long period.
The introduction of schmaltzy “classic MGM movie title” music at the very end of the play with an “it will be alright Wilma” gist comment seemed a clumsy attempt to tie it all up quickly: incongruous and jarring given the lack of music throughout
Having read the director’s notes in the programme, where he talks not only of his mission to acknowledge female writers through production of their work but speaks at length anecdotally about Sophie Treadwell “Broadway’s Bravest Woman”, I found myself even more fascinated by Sophie than by the play and wished we had witnessed a biographical piece about her own life and career. For while Garry was indeed ahead of its time and had some very interesting themes it didn’t have much light or shade, and didn’t really go anywhere.
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