I knew the director I was about to meet hadn’t been born when I first sat down to write my play. Young enough to be my granddaughter, the giddy days of the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment was a footnote in her history book. That baby boomers were once flower children might come as a surprise to her. And as for me, I was ancient history — a child of the Beat generation, a time when students talked existentialism in coffee houses and women wore white face powder and rimmed their eyes and lips in black. Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were the gurus of my generation and Jack Kerouac gave us our window to the world.
Woman on the Scarlet Beast is a play set in the early 1960s. Did this young woman I was about to meet ever confront gender discrimination? Would she understand that a college degree for a woman in those days wasn’t the beginning of a career but path that led to the typing pool? Would she believe me if I told her that in the 60s, a wife needed her husband’s permission to own a credit card? Or that in some states, a husband was allowed to physically discipline his wife? Could she envision a time when there was no “pill” and biology was destiny?
I entered the cool, dark theater ladened with doubts. As my eyes adjusted, a woman came toward me out of the shadows. She was tall and slim and her dark hair cascaded below her shoulders. She looked as if she’d stepped from a page in Vogue but without the need for makeup. Perhaps I was projecting my feelings, but she seemed a little nervous, too.
We sat down to talk about the play. Her first suggestion was that we hold an informal reading with some of the theater’s actors and I liked the idea. Next she outlined her thoughts about what I’d written, and I found no fault with her interpretation. She hadn’t asked why the central character was in a wheelchair, for example. She knew why, showing a better grasp of the material than some with whom I’d worked in the past. My mind and my body began to relax.
By the time we’d finished our conversation, we were smiling at one another, having shared an occasional laugh. When I rose to leave, I reached out to give her a hug and found she was doing the same to me. I admit I was moved and had to blink back my tears. After thirty years, Woman on the Scarlet Beast had found a home and the director was someone I could trust. Nonetheless, I drove home knowing I had other hurdles to face. What, for example, would the actors do with my lines?