My play Death and the Psychiatrist is one of five finalists for the 2015 Arts Club of Washington One Act Play Competition. The Arts Club of Washington promotes and celebrates visual, performing, and literary arts in Washington, D.C. The winning playwright and script will be announced at the President’s Dinner on Saturday December 19th.*
The complete list of finalists is:
- Death and the Psychiatrist by James Hutchison
- Waiting for Geoffrey by Jake Teeny
- Big Crush by David McInerny
- Rubbas by Steve Karp
- The Shooting Gallery by Kat Meads
When I first wrote Death and the Psychiatrist it was Dr. Donald Thompson not Donna. There were three characters and all three were men. I don’t think I did this intentionally. I just wrote the story the way it came to me. So, when it came time to rewrite the play I thought why not make one of the characters a woman. And I did. And I found the play didn’t change as much as I thought it might. And I think one of the reasons for that is because the play isn’t about being a man or a woman but rather it’s about being a parent and choosing career over family and that’s an issue that isn’t gender specific.
Death and the Psychiatrist is the story of Mortimer Graves who shows up at Psychiatrist Dr. Donna Thompson’s office claiming to be the Grim Reaper. With the Doctor’s help Mortimer confronts his emotional issues and Doctor Thompson, with Mortimer’s help, reevaluates her life priorities.
Once I’d made the change from Dr. Donald Thompson to Dr. Donna Thompson I also found myself thinking about how different the play might have been if I’d been writing it in the sixties. Back then if I’d made the Psychiatrist a woman I’d probably need to explain how and why a woman would become a psychiatrist and not a home maker.
If you didn’t grow up at the time and you want to get a feel for how women were portrayed in the workplace watch The Apartment (1960) by Billy Wilder which is a film I happen to like or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying which is a film I’ve seen but don’t much like.
Both films portray the office environment and show very clearly how women were pretty much delegated to the secretarial pool and seen as objects of sexual desire and little else. I remember seeing How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for the first time in the late seventies and even then it made me cringe. The film was produced in 1967 and was based on the 1961 Broadway play which was based on the 1952 novel. That time-line, I think, helps explain the male dominated and subservient position of women in the movie.
But even though these films don’t reflect modern attitudes and beliefs I don’t believe in revising history. These movies are a reflection of their time. They are essentially a time capsule and they should be preserved as they were made. They should not be banned or changed or revised to be politically correct. They are a useful tool to evoke discussion about where we’ve been – where we are – and where we want to go. To deny that they exist and that they reflect a different view of the world at a particular time in history is not a healthy way to embrace and learn from our past.
So, as a male playwright, I know I still tend to think of story from a male perspective but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the need to consider the gender of my characters and to consider the role women play in the stories I tell.
“For nearly a century the Arts Club of Washington has promoted and celebrated the visual, performing, and literary arts in Washington, D.C. Gatherings for members, exhibits and performances for the public, and a range of private events are held in the club’s historic I Street mansion, which was formerly the home of President James Monroe. Arts Club members come from a wide range of artistic disciplines and professional backgrounds, joined by their shared enjoyment and appreciation of the arts.”
*The winning play announced at the President’s Dinner On Saturday December 19th was – drum roll please – Rubbas by Steve Karp. Congratulations to Steve and all the other nominees.
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