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Contemporary Drama  
 
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Jane Chambers

Jane Chambers, the first major openly lesbian playwright, managed to create powerful dramas within the framework of dramatic realism. Chambers, by day a writer of soap operas, wrote a number of works that stand as classics of lesbian drama. In her plays, Chambers was more interested in the personal, emotional life of her characters than lesbian or feminist politics.

Her strongest work, A Late Snow (1974), traps Ellie, a college professor, in her lakeside cottage during a snowstorm with four women who have been important to her at various stages of her life: her college friend and sometime lover who has accepted her lesbianism; her alcoholic, self-destructive former lover who won't give up on the possibility of reestablishing their relationship; her adoring young lover and protégée; and a famous writer with whom, at the final curtain, Ellie negotiates a new relationship.

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Within this conventional framework, Chambers, through her characters, explores the elements of a mature, reciprocal relationship. Ellie wants "a lover consumed by the greatest passion, a partner possessed of the greatest loyalty, a friend committed to the greatest love." She realizes that until now she has settled for one of three with each of the women in her life. Wanting it all, she starts over again. She also realizes that living in the closet is impossible: "I can't march. But I won't hide."

Chambers is unique in adhering to the conventions of dramatic realism. Though she wrote extremely well-crafted dramas, her work did not receive the exposure of her gay male counterparts. Other lesbian playwrights looked for freer, more ironically charged forms.

Susan Miller

Susan Miller's Confessions of a Female Disorder (1973) is a hilarious biography of a young woman from her first period until her realization that she is a lesbian and totally miscast in the married, country-club world in which she is trapped.

Miller's use of funny choric characters to represent conventional masculine and feminine stereotypes, direct address to the audience, and actors playing multiple roles helps her audience see the universal implications of her character's battles with the agents of sexism and heterosexism.

Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes's The Well of Horniness (1983) is more fun than politics. In this mock radio broadcast, Hughes parodies the conventions and sound effects of radio melodrama to present a lesbian fantasy. Mysterious murders, a lesbian detective named Garnet McClit, and hundreds of double-entendres fill Hughes's script, which owes much to Theater of the Ridiculous.

Theatrical Experimentation and Performance Art

In recent years, lesbian writers and performers, influenced in part by the work of the many prominent feminist and lesbian theorists, have discarded the conventions and assumptions of realistic drama, seen by them as incompatible with feminism, for various forms of theatrical experimentation and performance art. The leading figures in contemporary lesbian theater are performance artists like Karen Finley and Holly Hughes.

British Lesbian Playwrights

British lesbian playwrights are more concerned with the social, economic, and political aspects of a lesbian's experience.

Jane Kirby

Jane Kirby's Twice Over (1988) begins with the funeral of a middle-aged woman, Cora, who never acknowledged her loving relationship with her best friend, Maeve. Cora arranges for her diaries, the record of her love for Maeve, to fall into the hands of her teenage granddaughter, Evaki.

Through Evaki, Maeve and Cora's family come to terms with the love that was central to Cora's life. The denouement is a replay of Cora's funeral as it should have been, with Maeve receiving the condolences of family and friends. Twice Over is a touching example of contemporary social realism, focusing on working-class characters and cross-generational relationships.

British Gay Male Playwrights

Unlike their lesbian compeers, gay men have maintained an investment in writing for mainstream theater partly because producers and theater companies have continued their historical preference toward male playwrights, gay or straight.

The few gay-positive plays that have appeared on the London stage in recent years are historical dramas rather than presentations of contemporary gay experience.

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