Book Review: A Striking Biography of a Rebel Theater Artist and Feminist

My latest theater review is a book review, not a stage production. Author Alexis Greene, who has written many works on theater, has published a fascinating and well-researched book on Emily Mann, director and playwright. Born in Boston, Mann grew up in Chicago, where her historian father was on the faculty at the University of Chicago. It was there, as a student at the UofC Lab School, that young Emily learned to love theater, which consumed her life from that time on.

Her achievements as a playwright are most notable. Her “theater of testimony,” based on real-life events and extensive interviews with participants, as well as mountains of other research on those stories, has become an important theater genre. Many of her works have been produced in Chicago; my review notes many of them, including those I have reviewed.

Mann began her directing career at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the 1970s. I lived in western Wisconsin during those years and my husband and I were subscribers and fans of the Guthrie, but I was unaware that the Guthrie was a highly patriarchal organization. Very few plays by women had ever been produced there and Mann was the first woman to direct a play on the Guthrie mainstage. Greene’s description of this phase of Mann’s work includes the anecdote of an artistic director pushing Mann up against a wall and telling her she really wanted to be a housewife, not a director.

See my full review of Greene’s book.

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