The Writer Review – A Resonant Scream

Left to right: Lucy Carapetyan, Peter Moore
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Power and privilege are messy things. Systemic power structures sink their claws into everything we do, from buying groceries to making art. In The Writer, written by Ella Hickson and directed by Georgette Verdin, now being produced by Steep Theatre, one writer struggles to break out of gendered power structures to create something that can truly reflect her voice and fulfill her deep-seated longing for something more than an average life.

Left to right: Krystal Ortiz, Peter Moore

The Writer is weird in the way that all the best art is weird. It opens with a pretty standard type of scene: two actors onstage, playing characters, arguing about Big Ideas: here, those ideas are about art and sex and gender. Then, it all implodes as the play becomes a metatheatrical talkback, and then a domestic scene, and then an abstract movement piece, and even more besides. There are through lines to each section, though, such that the story never feels like it’s lost, just reinventing itself as it goes. The subtext demands to know what constitutes acceptable theatre in a patriarchal, capitalist society, even as the characters explicitly demand to know the same.

Left to right: Krystal Ortiz, Nate Faust

It’s the sort of play that stays with a person long after seeing it. I can certainly point to flaws in the script. Huge swaths of marginalized identities are ignored completely, from race to ability to gender identities outside the binary and more than I could reasonably name here. The play claims to want to break out from standard theatrical structures, but it’s still a two-act play in a proscenium theatre with the fourth wall firmly in place. Parts of it are more symbolic than realist, but that’s hardly untrodden ground.

And yet.

Lucy Carapetyan

How many times have I wanted to scream as the Writer wants to scream? How many times have I longed to make art for its own sake, without concern for its profitable potential? How many men have condescended to me in just the subtle ways the Director condescends to the Writer? How often have I longed to have my queerness seen, how often have I wrestled with the truth of my desires? The Writer touches on deep, primal issues in women’s lives, and it does so with a rawness and realness I have rarely seen elsewhere. Even as the play itself is trapped in the very systems it seeks to overthrow–after all, Steep is going to sell you a ticket–it’s not screaming into the void. It’s echoing what’s hidden in every woman artist’s heart, resonating with the woman artist’s soul. It’s a feminist manifesto with choreography. It’s weird, and it’s awesome.

Left to right: Krystal Ortiz, Jodi Gage, Lucy Carapetyan, Allyce Torres

If you are a woman artist, you must see this show. If you are anyone else on the spectrum of gender, or in relationship to art, you must see this show. It will make you feel. It will make you think. It will contradict itself in just the way that each of us is guilty of contradiction, and you will walk away with much to turn over in your mind. What more can we ask of a play?

Top, down: Krystal Ortiz, Lucy Carapetyan

Ticket Information

Dates: August 11 – September 16, 2023

Schedule: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30pm | Sunday matinees at 3pm

Accessible Performances: 

-Audio Description Date: Sunday, August 27

-Open Captioning: Saturday, September 2 and Sunday, September 3

Contact Steep Theatre at ac****@st**********.com or 773-649-3186 for more information.

Location: The Edge Theater 5451 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

Tickets: $10-$40.  Call (773) 649-3186 or visit the Steep Theatre website.

All photos by Randall Starr.

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