In a Paris salon, telling
Within the confines of a cozy drawing room, three women consider their options. Rather than discussing the challenges of work-life balance, this trio is in Paris, at the very brink of the French Revolution.
“I find plays set in history offer us the ability to look at the present day through the oblique lens of heightened language and style,” says playwright Liz Duffy Adams, whose “The Salonnieres” is having its world premiere at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham Oct. 25-Nov. 11.
While “The Salonnieres” is based on real women who wrote literary fairy tales, those fairy tales become a clever device that propels Adams’s humorous plot.
“When I read the play, I enjoyed the plot, but worried that the telling of stories might slow the pace,” says Greater Boston Stage Company artistic director Weylin Symes, who is presenting the production as part of the company’s Don Fulton New Play Project. “But once the actors got onstage, we discovered the fun is in the characters, and how they talk to each other. They drive the laughs.”
Symes gathered several actors who worked together on the quartet of the Apple Family Plays in 2015 and 2016 that he directed — including Laura Latreille, Sarah Newhouse, and Bill Mootos — as well as newcomers Lisa Joyce and Elainy Mata.
The plot places a young woman fresh out of the convent named Madeleine (played by Mata) at a gathering of the “Salonnieres,” a group of aristocratic women who adapted folk tales and published them as literary fiction. The Salonnieres were trailblazers at a time when women were considered little more than property to be sold into marriage.
“These women used the stories to talk about politics,” says Adams (“Wonders of the Invisible World,” “Or,”) a North Shore native who now splits her time between New York and Western Massachusetts. “It was a time of nascent feminism.”
In the play, the women try to sway Madeleine’s loyalties with fairy tales as she confronts her situation: forced marriage to a much older man. The stories, including “Beauty and the Beast,” are rife with warnings and messages familiar to contemporary audiences but unknown to someone like Madeleine.
“I thought about crafting new stories,” says Adams, “but I like the tension that’s created when the audience knows more than the characters. I hope the audience enjoys seeing how these women try to manipulate Madeleine.”
Since the action all takes place in one room, Symes decided to augment the storytelling segments with stop-motion animation sequences created by Christine Banna and a soundscape created by New York-based designer and Winchester native Caroline Eng.
“I wanted to highlight the fantastical nature of the tales,” says Symes. “It’s a period play, in period costumes, with subtle anachronisms tossed in throughout.”
Duffy says balancing those mismatched elements is part of the fun.
“I was trained as an actor and loved Restoration Comedy and classical theater,” she says. “Those plays juggled style, wit, and high stakes. There was also always lots of things going on at different levels. I hope the audience will have some fun and be intrigued.”
All that glitters at Hibernian Hall
Tricia Elam Walker is an assistant professor of creative writing at Howard University, a former lawyer, and an award-winning novelist, essayist, and commentator, with two children’s books set for publication by Random House. Despite her success with the narrative form, she became intrigued by the possibilities of writing for the stage.
“Dialogue always came easily to me,” says the Roxbury native whose new play, “With Glittering Eyes,” plays at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury through Oct. 28 ($15-$30; www.madison-park.org). “So when Grub Street offered a class called ‘Six Plays in Six Weeks,’ I jumped in.”
Walker only finished five of the 10-minute plays, but the short collection was selected for a production by Hibernian Hall and directed by the former artistic director there, Dillon Bustin.
“He encouraged me to tackle a full-length play, and I had been thinking a lot about the complexities of families,” she says, “and what came out was ‘With Glittering Eyes.’ ”
The play spans 40 years and several generations of a family who appear to be happy and successful, but secrets they’ve been carrying for years finally bubble to the surface.
“I went to a family reunion and became fascinated by the conversations around family secrets that everyone seemed to know about but no one ever talked about,” she says.
At first, she says, the effort to travel back and forth from the 1950s to the 1990s, and from one location to another, felt limiting within the confines of the stage.
“But then I realized the limitations become opportunities to explore these characters and their connections to each other,” she says. “I’ve gotten enormous support from Dawn Simmons, who is directing, and have learned so much from the actors we are working with.”
Walker’s play comes as Hibernian Hall’s artistic director D. Farai Williams celebrates her first six months in her new role.
“It’s wonderful, because last year I was one of the actors in Tricia’s short plays, and now I have the opportunity to present her full-length,” Williams says.
Williams, a South End native, has had a long association with Hibernian Hall, working as affiliated artist and then the artistic director for Project Hip-Hop for a decade. This year, she is also serving as one of the city of Boston’s artists-in-residence.
Williams has already forged partnerships with the American Repertory Theater, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, and Boston Children’s Choir. “I’m passionate about the arts and the community,” Williams says. “I’m really excited about partnering with other arts organizations and helping connect individuals from this community with others.”
Presented by Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, Oct. 25-Nov. 11. Tickets $40-$55, 781-279-2200, www.greaterbostonstage.org