A Live Dress by Martha Jane Kaufman had its first staged reading last night at the jam packed Brody Theatre as part of the Fertile Ground Festival. Director Avital Schoenberg prefaced the evening by reminding the audience that a staged reading is a process, not a product- in fact the ending of the play had been rewritten only the night before. Note taken, and I agree that this play, like a special dress, still needs to be taken in here and let out there, but with a little more tailoring, A Live Dress will be an important and intricate work of theatre.
The story of A Live Dress revolves around the 1923 production of Sholom Asch's G-d of Vengeance in NYC, a Yiddish play that was shut down by the police for obscenity for portraying the first on stage lesbian relationship. Young Jewish actress, Sabina (Kayla Lian) and her grandmother (Michele M. Mariana) get pulled in to the mysterious conflict of the condemned play as they deal with their own conflicts as Jewish immigrant women who must make room for their old ghosts in a new home.
With this play, Kaufman continues the rich tradition of Yiddish Theatre, but twists and tangles the traditionally male-dominated form by writing from a strong female and queer perspective. It's not smack-in-the-face feminist queer theory on stage; it's just that the women speak and interact like women (how extraordinary!) and gay romances may or may not be brewing under the surface of the story. Kaufman handles under-represented voices with a light touch that integrates them honestly and seamlessly into the story.