Women’s Voices ring clear in upcoming Theater Festival

Saviana Stanescu Julia ChoSaviana Stanescu, photo credit: Jody Christopherson; Julia Cho, photo credit: Jennie WarrenMoira Buffini pits Margaret Thatcher against Queen Elizabeth in “Handbagged,” produced by Round House Theatre.

A former Romanian dictator and his wife reappear as vampires haunting a mail-order bride in “Waxing West,” produced by 4615 Theatre Company.

And in “Aubergine,” produced by Olney Theatre Center, a young French-trained Korean chef tries to find a common language with his father. 

These three Montgomery County theaters are among the 25 venues presenting works by female playwrights in January and February – as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

This event follows the first Festival, which was held in the D.C. area in 2015. Its aim is to bring equity to the play production process. According to a survey the Dramatists Guild released in 2015, female writers are featured in only 22 percent of new productions.

Playwright Saviana Stanescu, who lived under the oppressive Ceausescu regime in Romania, considers “Waxing West” a dark comedy.

“When I created the characters Ceausescu and Elena, I was mainly thinking of their dramatic purpose: to pull Daniela, the protagonist, down, to remind her of her past, to create obstacles in her struggle to adjust to the new life in the U.S. and to dramatize the immigrant experience,” she said. “I also made them vaudevillian vampires who sing and dance, as an homage to Ionesco and Beckett and their theater of the absurd.”

Stanescu got to know Jordan Friend, artistic director of 4615, when she taught him at Ithaca College. Upon opening his new theater, Friend asked if she had any plays to give him; she chose “Waxing West.” 

“Saviana’s style draws on the classics, with one foot in realism and one in absurdism,” Friend said.

Ryan Rilette, artistic director of Round House, discovered “Handbagged” during a visit to the National Theatre Bookshop in London and was impressed. 

“My concern, though, was how it would work for U.S. audiences, because there were references to people everyone knows in Great Britain but not in America,” he said.

Fortunately, Indhu Rubasingham, the playwright and original director – who is also staging the Round House production – agreed to tweak “Handbagged.”

“What I liked about the play is its humor and inventiveness,” said Rilette. “It’s also very theatrical; all the characters know they are in the theater and speaking to the audience. The older and younger versions of Thatcher and the Queen are on stage at the same time.”
Olney Theatre Center had not done any of Julia Cho’s plays, though The Forum, another area theater, had produced what may be her most famous work, “The Language Archive.”

“Julia said she was commissioned to write a short play about food, but it became much bigger,” said Jason Loewith, Olney’s artistic director. “The play is about the ways food can unite people. If you remember the best meal you ever had, and the person you were with, you may never regain that emotional high.”

“Many of my characters are lonely and isolated, but still try to connect,” said Cho. “I think there's a recurring attempt to tell the stories of people we don't often get to see onstage – minorities, immigrants, etc.”

Why food as a theme?

“Food is one of those deceptively simple, everyday things that, when you really look at, quickly become full of infinite meaning,” said Cho. “In the story of a son and his dying father, who literally and metaphorically speak different languages, food became the only means through which they can connect.”

Actress Allison Janney is the festival’s honorary chair; Nan Burnett is its coordinating producer. 

“Handbagged” runs Jan. 31 through Feb. 25 in its American premiere at Round House Theatre, located at 4545 East-West Hwy, Bethesda.

“Waxing West” runs Jan. 19 through Feb. 10 at Highwood Theatre located at 914 Silver Spring Ave., Silver Spring. 

“Aubergine” runs Feb. 7 through March 4 in its regional premiere, at Olney Theatre Center, located at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney.

For a complete schedule and other information, visit


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