In 1669, British female writer Aphra Behn produced a play and people laughed in her face. More than 300 years later, not much has changed.
Such is the premise for “The Woman’s Part” written by Cody Daigle-Orians for Acadiana Repertory Theatre and scheduled to open June 19 at Theatre 810 in downtown Lafayette.
“It’s got a big cast,” said director Steven Landry. “It’s a period piece with costuming and a big, gutsy show. I’m fascinated with that period in theatre history.”
A contemporary piece that covers a lot of ground, the play is actually two stories; one set in 1669, with a second act taking place in today’s Baton Rouge utilizing the same actors in different roles. It is entertainment with serious ideas on its mind, a traditional play in the spirit of contemporary comedy.
“The Woman’s Part” was only finalized the first week in May when Daigle-Orians Skyped a full reading with the cast. “I’m still learning how to talk about it,” he said. “It’s fresh off the printer. Brand, brand new.”
It’s the third play he’s finished and simply handed off to Landry.
“They’re an open and generous company. He (Landry) has created a company doing really original plays, and I love that he has the guts to do it.”
Landry likes working with playwrights directly, functioning as a lab and giving them a test run. He’s completely comfortable with the experimental and says the idea is to be a starting point.
“Every playwright needs a theater that’s going to take a chance on his work,” said Landry. “These are up and coming playwrights, Eugene O’Neill semi-finalists.”
“We wanted to do new things, things that haven’t been done around here, and then it evolved into things that haven’t been done at all.”
Originally from Lafayette, Daigle-Orians is Acadiana Repertory Theatre’s lead company playwright. His central roles are generally strong, complicated women and he owns the f-word.
“Feminist? Absolutely. I’m comfortable having that attached to the work. I interpret it as men and women being treated equally. It’s probably one of the more political plays I’ve written. Comic, but it gets heavier in the second half.”
Although women are the vehicle, Daigle believes the play will resonate with everyone because the journey toward self-invention is common to all.
Etienna Wright’s part was written with her in mind. She plays iconoclast Behn, who became a laughingstock when she attempted to produce a play and could only persuade prostitutes to read for her. Wright also plays modern-day artistic director Allison Bohn. The two characters are similar in that they’re both trying to attain something and face obstacles.
“Cody has a way of writing about women,” said Wright. “He can truly see the female experience.”
Both Daigle-Orians and Landry agree the idea is to have the female voice heard and many don’t want to listen.
“My favorite actors — playwrights too — are women, and I love writing for them,” said Daigle. “There’s a large conversation in the theatre about women being under-represented. I feel like as a writer, it’s a hole I’ve noticed so I write to fill it. It’s rare to see a play with eight women.”
Landry likens the first act to a Restoration comedy — a style of drama that flourished in London after the Restoration in 1660, typically having a complicated plot marked by wit, cynicism, and licentiousness — but says as artistic director of the Acadiana Repertory, the second act struck a chord with him.
“It’s not a common thing in the theatrical universe we’re doing,” said Landry. “We’re doing something of benefit and service to the community and playwrights.”
“The goal is to step it to bigger and better things.”