Saturday, April 25, 2020

Play a Day: Slaying Holofernes

Emily McClain
For Saturday, I read Slaying Holofernes by Emily McClain and listed at New Play Exchange.

Sometimes an evocative title can create in the imagination its own narrative, and then you read a thing and find out you were entirely in another universe, or if not entirely, at least that you were wrong.

I thought "Slaying Holofernes" might be the story of taking down wistful, entrenched, and useless academics, the Holofernes of the title a reference to he who is found in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. But I was mistaken.

Judith Slaying Holofernes
(Artemisia Gentileschi, 1613)
In this case, we are referring to the biblical Holofernes, a marauding general who was beguiled by the Hebrew widow Judith, who got him drunk and cut off his head. The tale was immortalized by the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who is a subject of McClain's play.

McClain's work is an intense courtroom/boardroom drama, moving back and forth in time to detail the unfair treatment of two women in the workplace, a seventeenth century painter and a modern numbers cruncher.

The two tales compliment each other, as we are treated to compelling debates, with echoes of the Kavanaugh hearings, which was itself a repetition on a historic theme, in which women are asked the same contradictory questions in order to exonerate the man; Why did you wait to speak? Why did you not behave differently at the time? Why don't you just shut up?

The playwright's use of classical paintings, and her stage directions regarding to use of light are particularly compelling. I am drawn to plays about painters, enticed by their description of color and theme and light. This is a powerful play, enhanced by Biblical, classical, and modern atmospheres.

Who should I read tomorrow?

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