By Whitney Hale
(Oct. 22, 2015) — A new play by Lydia Blaisdell will have its world premiere in the Bluegrass Nov. 5–7, in four performances at Lexington's Downtown Arts Center. Produced and directed by Eric Seale, "The Silent Woman" is the winner of the biennial Prize for Women Playwrights from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.
"'The Silent Woman' is a deeply assured work, funny and strange and beautiful in turns. It will make a thrilling production," said acclaimed playwright Carson Kreitzer, who judged the playwriting competition and selected the work from a pool of more than 300 submissions.
"The Silent Woman" tells the strange, true tale of a painter living with an effigy of his ex-lover in 1919 Germany. Austrian Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, stabbed in the lung by a bayonet in World War I, comes to Dresden to convalesce and finds that his love, Alma Mahler, has married celebrated architect Walter Gropius. Kokoschka coped with his loss by commissioning a life-sized doll modeled after Alma.
Blaisdell’s script depicts this risqué episode from the point of view of scullery maid Hulda, persuaded to serve as a ladies maid to the effigy. They reside on the estate of Oskar’s patron, whose butler is Hulda’s boss, complicating the lines of authority. While Oskar struggles to overcome sorrow and regain his ability to paint, Hulda develops a desire for a life beyond the confines of women in her position.
"The very first photograph I found of the doll-fetish had a young woman kneeling at its feet, while the doll sat in a chair. That image and the idea of a living, breathing woman kneeling at the feet of an idol, is ultimately the seed of the play. And as much as the play is about Oskar, I’m equally concerned with Hulda, the maid," Blaisdell said.
In 2013, Blaisdell received a Jerome Travel and Study Grant to travel to Vienna and Berlin to research "The Silent Woman."
"I’ve always been drawn to Austrian expressionism. There’s so much movement in the work, and there’s this ability to capture a person’s interior state. I’ve also always been hooked on fin de siècle Vienna as this amazing historical moment when a variety of art forms worked together to really interrogate what modernity meant."
While the play recounts a moment in history, its characters speak in contemporary, cutting-edge dialogue, reminiscent of the wildly popular "Venus in Fur," also about a 19th-century Austrian artist with colorful sexual interests, and a hit with Lexington audiences last December.
Independently produced by Eric Seale, in collaboration with Kentucky Women Writers Conference and the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, "The Silent Woman" features a top-notch cast of Kentucky actors whose names will be familiar to local theater audiences: Bethany Finley as the maid Hulda, Darius Fatemi as Oskar Kokoschka, and Bob Singleton in three roles, the butler, the coachman who courts Hulda and the policeman.
Lydia Blaisdell is a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, and will make her first visit to Lexington in time for opening night. Since 2010, she has been a member playwright of Youngblood at Ensemble Studio Theater in New York City, as well as the Brooklyn-based writers’ collective Krïstïanïa.
In April 2015, Blaisdell premiered "Apocalypse Radio," an immersive retro-future radio play, in the Cohen New Works Festival. "Sucking & Spitting," her riff on the Bacchae, was a semifinalist for the 2014 Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Also in 2014 her one-act, "Old Broads," was performed at the Off Shoot in Austin. She has been short-listed for the T. S. Eliot U.S./U.K. Exchange (2012), and was a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award (2014, 2010). Her short plays have been performed in New York City, Austin, Aspen, Lake George and Paris, France. She received her bachelor's degree in English literature from Columbia University in 2009.
Director/producer Eric Seale is known for mounting challenging plays and developing new works, especially from contemporary women playwrights such as Carson Kreitzer, Sarah Ruhl and Laura Wade. Tapped by Kentucky Women Writers Conference to produce and direct the winning script of its biennial playwriting contest, Seale was among a panel of Lexington theater professionals including Mylissa Crutcher, Tonda Fields and Kathryn Newquist, who helped review the competition with Kreitzer.
"The Silent Woman" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 5-7, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, the Downtown Arts Center, located at 141 Main Street. Tickets for the play are $15 for general admission and $10 for students with a valid school ID. When available, $8 student rush tickets will be offered 15 minutes prior to curtain. To purchase tickets call 859-425-2550 or visit online at lexingtonky.gov/dac.
In its 37th year, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is an annual event known for bringing notable women writers to Lexington for readings, writing workshops and discussions.