The Bard’s Town Theatre’s next production is the 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Playwright David Mamet is perhaps best known for writing hard-talking, often misogynists men, but when “Glengarry” hits The Bard’s Town stage on Thursday, it will feature a cast of women, with a woman calling the shots from the director’s chair.
Insider spoke with director Gracie Taylor about staging “Glengarry,” why gender-flipping shows are important, and why lines like “F*$k you, that’s my name!” sound different coming out of a woman’s mouth.
Taylor is a Cincinnati native who heard great things about Louisville’s theater scene while majoring in acting at Hanover College. She’s gotten very involved — she founded and runs “Sketchy Stuff,” Louisville’s only live-sketch comedy show, works with Louisville Championship Arm Wrestling, and has worked with StageOne, Walden Theatre Alumni Company, Theatre , The Bard’s Town and others.
But she hasn’t spent a lot of time in the director’s seat.
“This is my first time directing a full-length show … This is a huge job, and it scared me at first,” she says. “Because it’s a very well-known play, and it’s tackling a gender swap, which has a different meaning behind it. But I think it’s important to do things that scare you.”
Gender-flipped shows are productions that take the genders of the characters as originally written and reassign them, most frequently changing men into women.
There can be a lot of reasons to flip a particular show, but at its heart, the practice is rooted in the fact that the theatrical canon is overwhelmingly centered around roles written for males.
Criticisms of theater’s gender disparity, at all levels from acting to producing, has been an active topic since the 1960s, but the problem remains. Some data sets even suggest the disparity is getting worse.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” isn’t Taylor’s first experience with a gender-flipped show. She appeared in the Alley Theater’s recent all-women production of “Reservoir Dogs.”
The experience kindled her interest, and when Bard’s Town’s Doug Schutte started talking about maybe doing a flipped “Glengarry,” Taylor wanted to get in on the action.
“I was like, ‘Hey, do you have a director?’ And they were like, ‘No.’ So I said, “It’s me. I’m going to do it,” recalls Taylor.
A gender-flipped show generally comes in one of two flavors. You either cast women to act as men and play the characters, or you change the gender of the characters so that now they are women.
For this production, the characters have been flipped, so instead of an office full predatory men in the real estate business, you have equally predatory women. The only things that have changed in the script are pronouns, and an occasional reference to a “wife” gets turned into a mention of a “husband.”
The opportunity to work on “Glengarry” brought in women eager to take on roles they are historically denied.
“A lot of people were, like, ‘I had to audition for ‘Glengarry,’ because when the hell else am I going to be in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross?’ We had like 40 women show up to audition,” says Taylor.
Now, in a big city like New York or even Chicago, 40 actors showing up to audition isn’t a big deal, but in Louisville’s independent theater scene, that’s pretty impressive.
There is a great opportunity here for the actors to play roles they wouldn’t normally get to play, but there also is the opportunity to explore some of society’s expected gender roles, perceived norms and accepted behavior.
Some of that behavior is explored through the profanity-laden dialogue for which Mamet is known.
“It’s harsh language that women don’t usually speak,” says Taylor. “Women are open about their emotions a lot more, and there’s this catty, sarcastic tone that has come out of the actresses. And it seems so much more brutal to me hearing them say it.”
“The emotions that have come out of the actresses organically are something you wouldn’t see in a male cast,” she says. “There are tears, or being overly sweet when they are actually being mean.”
To her, the rough language and the intense power dynamics wielded by the characters are empowering, in large part due to the kinds of characters women most often get to play in theater.
“The first rehearsal we had, all the women were, like, ‘I’m so glad I’m not playing the romantic ingénue.’ There’s no romance in the show, which is very odd for females,” says Taylor. “It’s freeing to play a role where you’re not an object of love or sex.”
“Glengarry Glen Ross” runs May 16-20 and May 24-27. All shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door. The Bard’s Town is located at 1801 Bardstown Road.