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Feminist farce tickles Narver's funny bone

Renata Friedman as Molly Rivers confronts Suzy Hunt as Margot Mason.
Renata Friedman as Molly Rivers
confronts Suzy Hunt as Margot Mason.
Photo: Chris Bennion, courtesy of ACT

When Allison Narver first read the play The Female of the Species, she startled fellow plane passengers. “I was laughing so loudly that I started to draw attention to myself,” recalled Narver. She had been sent the play by ACT’s artistic director Kurt Beattie with an invitation to direct its Seattle premiere. Narver’s previous credits at ACT include Eurydice and The Clean House.

Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith takes a real-life incident, when feminist icon Germaine Greer was held hostage in her home by an obsessed college co-ed, and turns it into a fictional farce about the entire women's movement.

“It’s a sharp satire on the generational issues and it allows feminism to be funny,” observed Narver. “Murray-Smith takes all these different points of views and locks them in a room together.” In the play, feminist author Margot Mason (veteran Seattle stage actor Suzy Hunt) and her disillusioned, gun-wielding disciple Molly (Renata Friedman) confront each other with interruptions from Mason’s harried daughter Tess (Morgan Rowe), her successful but inarticulate son-in-law (Paul Morgan Stetler), a macho taxi driver (Tim Hyland), and Mason’s publisher (Mark Chamberlin).

When The Female of the Species opened in London’s West End, it received an Oliver Award for Best New Comedy and a 2010 production in Los Angeles, starring Annette Bening as Margot, received equally warm reception. The comedy successfully argues that “feminism has come far enough that you don’t have to tip-toe through the issues, that you can gently poke fun at it,” said Narver.

In her portrayal of an author having an exceptionally bad day of writer's block, Narver calls Hunt perfect casting, a woman easily able to communicate Margot’s strong views on how women should tackle the world around them. “The audience either likes or dislikes Margot, they either identify with her or despise her,” she said. “And there are some lines where you will hear a groan of recognition: particularly when the characters start talking about the mothers who were never there, because they were out fighting for the movement.”

At the same time, Narver said the struggles of those feminists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Margot tug at the audience’s sympathy. “It’s so easy to forget how hard it was,” she said. “I’m a working mother, and I have hard enough time trying to balance motherhood and working without trying to stage a revolution.”

Meanwhile, the audience filling the lobby keeps chattering about what they’ve seen. “There’s a real eagerness to discuss the issues when they get out of their seats, and that’s a nice surprise,” said Narver. But don’t go to Netflix to find out a little more about the issues and history behind the play. “When we started, I wanted a documentary to show the cast, and there really is nothing out there about the whole women’s movement in the 20th century. All the other social revolutions, yes, but not that. And that was shocking to me,” said Narver.