When taking on a play, a director may first need to decide on the basics of the setting—the where, the when, etc. In most plays, this is spelled out for you. But sometimes, you get a little gift on that title page of your script: those three words, “Time: The Present.” Which is what I was faced with on page 3 of my Spike Heels script. This is a contemporary play, first workshopped in 1990 and fully produced in New York in 1992. And even almost 25 years after it was written, it still reads and sounds like it could be happening now.
In Spike Heels, playwright Theresa Rebeck uses humor and wit to tackle some pretty big issues, one of these being sexual harassment in the workplace. Within the first scene, we learn that Georgie has been the victim of unwanted sexual advances and threats from her boss at work. But she goes back the next day because she “needs the job” and because “it was just talk.” The men in the show react in opposite ways: one becoming furious and railing about how “indecent” it was, and the other railing against society for being “so fucking sensitive these days,” claiming that the term “sexual harassment” means nothing anymore. I couldn’t help but think of the #yesallwomen hashtag that made such a big impact earlier in 2014 (and the #notallmen hashtag that followed), as well as the fact that feminism as a movement has returned to the forefront of the media. The story presented in that first scene not only could happen today, it is happening today. We could change the cordless phone onstage to a smartphone and no one would ever think that this show was written 25 years ago.
Which is precisely why I knew I had to set the show in 1990. Because so little has changed.
One of the things that I have always loved about theatre is that there is such a large spectrum of “uses” for it. At one end, we have pure entertainment—a production that simply transports an audience out of their daily lives, amuses them, and gives them escape. This in itself is a lofty goal, in my opinion. On the other end of the spectrum, we have theatre that instructs, presents serious issues to the audience, and maybe (hopefully) even inspires action on those issues in their lives. For me, Spike Heels sits very comfortably in the middle of that spectrum. Yes, it is hilarious. And yes, it has a lot to say about class, education, sexual harassment, and feminism. Rebeck herself has said, “I do see comedy as a response to being wounded and a sort of fierce need to survive.”
The beauty of this show is that it is in no way preachy, stereotypical, or unrealistic. It is about four people—two men and two women—reacting to a situation in the way that their lives have prepared them react, from the character who can intellectualize the problems away due to his position of privilege to the character who has been conditioned to put up with abuse because quitting a job is not an option financially. But the men are not simply monsters, and the women are not simply innocents. They all make mistakes, and they all in some way perpetuate the classist and patriarchal system that they are supposedly fighting against.
But perhaps my favorite thing about Spike Heels is that it is a celebration of change, and the power of honesty and respect to transform people and relationships. Education and opportunity can change someone’s life. People who see themselves as moral and ethical can do terrible things. People who wield power in inappropriate ways can wake up and change. It is character-centric, and we at The Brown Paper Box Co. are blessed with four extremely talented actors who are bringing these people to life.
Today, I was reading How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran. In it, she writes, “If there is to be a fifth wave of feminism, I would hope that the main thing that distinguishes it from all that came before is that women counter the awkwardness, disconnect, and bullshit of being a modern woman not by shouting at it, internalizing it, or squabbling about it—but by simply pointing at it and going ‘HA!’ instead.” This is what Rebeck did 24 years ago. And this is what we are doing in this production. Come say “HA!” with us. Because laughing at the problems of the past, and recognizing them in our present, is perhaps the best way to solve them in the future.
Director, Spike Heels
The Brown Paper Box Co.
SPIKE HEELS runs January 23–February 8, 2015 at THE WEST STAGE AT THE RAVEN THEATRE COMPLEX. Thursdays–Saturdays @ 8 PM and Sundays @ 3:30 PM. Tickets are available at http://spikeheelschi.bpt.me.
Brown Paper Blog
Making theatre. Writing about it. Maybe some hilarious Youtube cat videos in between.