Monday, February 9, 2015

A Man's World

Play #14: A Man's World by Rachel Crothers

Okay, theatre history folks, Rachel Crothers is definitely one of those folks you should know, but probably don't. I first met her in my MA program when I read He and She. Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, Crothers was one of the most successful women playwrights of her day. She was regularly produced, she acted a little, she even directed many of her own productions and sometimes designed sets. And her plays have a tendency to deal explicitly with the unfair differences in circumstances between men and women. I think it's pretty obvious that a play with this title would do so, eh? A Man's World is the story of a woman named Frank Ware, who has gained great acclaim as a writer. In particular, she writes about the plight of women in the tenements of New York. She also runs a sort of halfway house in the area designed to help young women find their way out of poverty. The public assumes she must have a lover who does her writing for her - it's too good to be written by a man. She lives in an apartment with Kiddie, the boy she adopted. Of course, as a single woman raising a child on her own in 1909, there is plenty of gossip surrounding these circumstances. And, of course, she must be lying about the child's origins - he must be her illegitimate son. Most convinced in this is Leone, a singer who lives downstairs. She is convinced that Kiddie bears a striking resemblance to Malcolm Gaskell - a newspaper man who everyone thinks is in love with Frank. She assumes that they really knew each other back in Paris despite their story of only meeting here, that the child is theirs, and that they are hiding this knowledge from the world. Leone finally confronts Frank with this idea after she has finally admitted to Gaskell that she loves him - despite her convictions to remain a strong, single woman. It seems she has a hard time trusting men because she is so appalled by the actions of the man who impregnated and abandoned Kiddie's mother - a young woman who came to Frank in Paris looking for help, and eventually died during childbirth. But she has finally given in to love when Leone proposes her theory - and Frank realizes that she's not entirely wrong. Kiddie does look like Gaskell! She confronts him and he admits that he had known the girl, and together they confirm that he is Kiddie's father. This proves to be more than a little problematic for Frank, who has spent the last six years hating the nameless, faceless man who had destroyed that young woman. Gaskell argues that she ought to forget that old nonsense. Frank begs him to admit that what he did was wrong, but he says that, as a man, he is subject to different rules than women and refuses to admit any wrongdoing, so Frank ends up sending him away - choosing her ideals that men and women should be held to the same standards over love.

I found this play interesting, because in He and She, the woman ends up choosing her duties as a mother over her ambitions and talents as an artist, so to see her heroine choose her ideals over being a wife was kind of nice. I wonder how this play would come across today, because it really is pretty relevant when you think about how much scrutiny women celebrities are under as opposed to their male counterparts. This is really a very well-mannered critique of the slut-shaming rape culture that holds women solely responsible for an activity that really does require two people to do it. Hmm...

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