The play "Naturalized Woman: A Quilting, Surrealist Project about Immigrant Women" by Domnica Radulescu, the Edwin A. Morris Professor of Romance Languages and head of the medieval and renaissance studies program at Washington and Lee University, will be staged for the first time at the Thespis Theater Festival in New York City in October.
The 65-minute play is one of 20 new works selected for the festival and will be performed on Oct. 10, 11 and 12 at the Cabrini Repertory Theater in Manhattan. The play will also be staged during W&L's National Symposium of Theater in Academe, of which Radulescu is the founding director, on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m. in the Stackhouse Theater.
The play is directed by Kimberly Jew, associate professor of theater at W&L, and will be performed by a cast of seven W&L students.
"Naturalized Woman" tells the story of the process that Nina, a Romanian immigrant to America, goes through to obtain naturalization. One of the conditions she has to meet is being willing to fight in a war on American territory. But this poses a moral dilemma since Nina is a pacifist.
To help her out, women from all parts of history and the world tell her their stories. Among the diverse characters, both real and imagined, are Medea, Nadia Comaneci, Mrs. Aristotle, Aretha Franklin, a vampire woman from Romania, Nina's aunt Matilda and a Cambodian refugee.
According to Radulescu, her starting point for writing the play was her personal experience of the immigration process. She also wrote a chapter about naturalization in her best-selling novel "Train to Trieste" (Knopf, 2008, Vintage, 2009), which won the Library of Virginia's 2009 fiction prize.
"I've taken that chapter and developed it and added more characters and more voices about the whole dilemma what it means to become a naturalized citizen from the female point of view, because there are differences in gender," said Radulescu. "The play is fantastical or surrealistic, but it's also deeply planted in the political reality of our times."
When Radulescu submitted "Naturalized Woman" to the Thespis Festival she was unaware that, if successful, she would be responsible for the production. "I couldn’t undertake that," said Radulescu, "so it was fantastic when Kimberly agreed to do it."
"I was attracted to the play because it's extremely funny," said Jew. "It's sassy. And the lead character has a real edge to her and a certain kind of energy. There is a strong feminist feeling to the play, and Nina finds strength through the feminine archetypes that come out of her. Also, we forget or don't know what it's like to go through the immigration process and how dehumanizing it is."
Radulescu said that Jew understood everything she was trying to do with the play, "the aesthetics, the characters, the rhythm and the comic potential. She's squeezed out of it every little bit of comedy. I saw one rehearsal and I was very impressed with the staging. The beauty of this production is that it's collaborative. We merged our creative energies, and Kimberly has made it a better play."
Under Jew's direction, the actors, some of the most experienced on campus, also contributed to the collaboration on the new play. "The students love the play and the idea of acting in a New York theater," said Jew. "Normally, we just perform in Lexington, and we hope that we can keep creating works like this when we reach out to the theater community outside of Lexington. It's a whole different world."
The cast comprises Caroline Crichlow-Ball '15, from Austin, Texas; Sara Hardman '13, from Parkersburg, W. Va.; Todd Smith-Schoenwalder '14, from Tallahassee, Fla.; Chauncey Baker '15, from Dallas. Ore.; Lorraine Simonis '14, from Lexington, Va.; Elizabeth Lamb '13, from Stanardsville, Va., and Kathryne (Katie) Ackell '13, from Appleton, Wis. Hank Mierzwa is the stage manager and Timothy J. (TJ) Fisher '15, from Potomac, Md., is the assistant stage manager.
"Naturalized Woman" is sponsored by Washington and Lee's department of theater and dance, the office of the provost and the women's and gender studies program. At the Thespis Theater Festival, it will also compete for three prizes: Best Play, Play that Makes the World a Better Place and Best Actor.