Is Caryl Churchill's 1982 feminist play still relevant today? - READ MORE...
Marlene a successful business woman who just got promoted to Managing Director of Top Girls Employment Agency. All seems to be going Marlene’s way. She beat out a man for the top position at the company, and she has the opportunity to help other women find employment just like her.
However, nothing is ever simple – particularly in a Caryl Churchill play.
Multiple Layers of Feminism
Top Girls is at its core a feminist play, looking at the multiple different appearances that can take – starting at the top of the play.
We enter a flawlessly set restaurant dining room and Marlene, dressed in a stunning black gown, is the hostess. She glides around the space fixing silverware placements and altering flower arrangements as she waits for her guests to arrive. Given the look of Marlene(Linda Gillum), one might expect this fine dining experience to look a certain way; however, as the guests arrive, we start to realize that this is no ordinary gathering, and the event itself is a lot more theatrical.
Women from across history enter the space, from Isabella Bird (Annabel Armour) and Dull Gret (de Asua) to Lady Nijo (Karissa Murrell Myers) and Pope Joan ((Rebecca Spence),). Co-Costume Designers Raquel Adorno and Meeka Postman outfit each woman in a piece specific to their historical moment. You too might at first feel jarred by this scene, wondering why and how all of these women are in the same place. You may be more familiar with some than others, but as they start to share their stories, one thing becomes quite clear: every one of them found their place in power by either sleeping with men, or appearing as one.
This is Marlene’s dream world, and she chose to invite all of these women to celebrate her promotion with her.
Why these women, and what choices did Marlene make for her success? Churchill kicks us off with a whirlwind of a scene, and it is up to us to determine how it fits into the puzzle.
Don’t let the first scene scare you too much. As heightened and theatrical as it may be, the remainder of Churchill’s play is very grounded in the everyday, and becomes a more political family drama. As the play goes on we start to see what Marlene’s success has cost her, and how she handles those choices.
Later in the play, Marlene sits on the couch, and her sister Joyce (Rebecca Spence), stands by the kitchen table. Angie (Aurora Real de Asua) is ecstatic, running around opening presents that her Aunt Marlene brought from London—a sparkly pink dress for her, and a bottle of expensive perfume for her mother. Angie even spreads some perfume on herself, and the other two women, so that they can all smell the same.
On the surface, this feels like a typical family gathering. However, a closer look reveals a far deeper conflict at play. Marlene tries to keep things light, but Joyce refuses to look her sister in the eye. She busies herself by cleaning up, sipping her tea, or trying to calm Angie enough to get her ready for bed. The reality is that it has been years since Aunt Marlene has come in for a visit. Much like any family drama, secrets and accusations threaten to rise to the surface. It’s only a matter of time before Marlene or Joyce breaks the façade, and the bubbling anger releases.
All we, the audience,can do is anxiously sit and wait…
Later we start to discover that there is far more aggression at play than either woman wants to let on. We know it had been a while since Marlene and Joyce met, but Keira Fromm’s staging of the scene sparks high tension, down to the glares the women shared over their cups of tea. Marlene’s life choices in order to find her success are at issue. Her sister is less than thrilled with how these decisions impacted her. For better or for worse, the two women are now in a space to share the extents of those feelings. Spence and Gillum handle their parts gracefully, in this writer’s view – both showcasing agency and power in their arguments. As the pain and truths of the past come out, it is easy to sympathize with both of them.
Thought-provoking and frighteningly relevant, Top Girls is a roller-coaster ride from start to finish.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Title: TOP GIRLS
Written by: Caryl Churchill
Director: Keira Fromm
Annabel Armour (Isabella Bird/Louise), Linda Gillum (Marlene), Rebecca Hurd (Waitress/Nell), Karissa Murrell Myers (Lady Nijo/Win), Aurora Real De Asua (Dull Gret/Angie), Amber Sallis (Griselda/Kit), Rebecca Spence (Joyce/Pope Joan/Mrs. Kidd), and Vahishta Vafadari (Jeanine/Shona/Waitress).
Stage Manager: Mara Sagal
Assistant Director: Tyler Meredith
Dramaturg: Sarah Illiatovich-Goldman
Technical Director: Harrison Ornelas
Scenic Designer: Courtney O’Neill
Costume Designer: Raquel Adorno
Lighting Designer: Becca Jeffords
Sound Designer: Sarah D. Espinoza
Properties Designer: Amanda Herrmann
Dialect Coach: Eva Breneman
Movement and Intimacy Coordinator: Kristina Fluty
Running through February 22, 2020
Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Matinee Performances (other than Sundays):
Saturday, February 1 at 2:30pm
Saturday, February 8 at 2:30pm
Thursday February 13 at 2:30pm
Thursday, February 20 at 2:30pm
Saturday, February 22 at 2:30pm
1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.