Mothers and Sons on the World Stage

Posted on: November 8th, 2018 by Jason Jacobs


The complicated mother-son relationships in Apologia connect to a tradition in theatre history and one of the most primal archetypes in myth and psychology. Psychiatrist Carl Jung notes that, beyond any individual mother, the archetype of the Great Mother, capable of both creation and destruction, has a powerful resonance in our imaginations. Here is a selection of some classic plays that explore this dynamic.

This painting shows the infant Oedipus being discovered on a mountainside, where he has been left to die. The adult Oedipus returned to the city of his birth and married his mother without realizing their connection. The name of the artist, who worked in the 17th century, is unknown. Credit: Bolton Library.

OEDIPUS REX (430-426 BC)
Sophocles’ tragedy turns on the catastrophic revelation that, despite efforts to outwit a prophecy that her son would kill her husband and sleep with her, Queen Jocasta has in fact married her own son. While Jocasta and Oedipus are ignorant of violating the incest taboo, the play gave Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, inspiration for the “Oedipus Complex”—a stage of psychological development where a child sees the father as a rival for the mother’s affection. It’s noteworthy that this Freudian dynamic, conceived from a male perspective, has fascinated many male writers, including Shakespeare and Chekhov.

HAMLET (approx. 1601)
Shakespeare's Hamlet despairs that his widowed mother Gertrude has married his uncle Claudius, whom he suspects killed his father. Gertrude tries to make peace between her son and new husband, but Shakespeare leaves us to wonder if she is complicit in her first husband’s death. Hamlet graphically expresses disgust with his mother’s sexuality, and during their major confrontation (which takes place in her bedroom), he urges her not to sleep with Claudius. Freud, as well as many Shakespeare scholars, noted this relationship as an example of the Oedipus Complex.

Chekhov’s breakthrough play portrays the dysfunctional relationship between Arkadina, a successful actress, and her son Konstantin, a struggling writer. Although sometimes affectionate, Arkadina publicly mocks Konstantin and his work and resents him for reminding her—and the world—of her own age. A key moment involves Arkadina bandaging Konstantin's self-inflicted gunshot wound. What begins as a tender scene erupts into a confrontation, pushing Konstantin one step closer to his eventual suicide.

Patch Darragh as Tom and Judith Ivey as his mother Amanda, in Roundabout’s 2010 revival of The Glass Menagerie. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tennessee Williams took inspiration from his own family to create the Wingfields: mother Amanda, son Tom, and daughter Laura. Struggling during the Great Depression, Amanda pines for her youth and dreams of a better future for her children. However, rather than respecting their own wishes and wills, she treats them as projections of herself. Tom works in a factory to support the family but longs to be a writer and resents Amanda’s intrusions into his life. Their complicated love-hate relationship reaches a crisis when Tom abandons the family to pursue his own dreams.

Lorraine Hansberry showed the impact of racism and poverty on a struggling African-American family, particularly on the relationship between “Mama” Lena Younger and her thirty-year-old son, Walter Lee. A $10,000 insurance check sparks disagreement over what’s best for the family: the home Mama wants to buy, or the get-rich scheme Walter Lee believes will strike big, but ends in a bust. Ultimately, by defying their hostile white neighbors, Walter Lee stands up for his family and wins his mother’s approval.

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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Second Wave Feminism

Posted on: November 3rd, 2018 by Jason Jacobs



The history of feminism in the U.S. and Europe is viewed in four distinct “waves.” The first wave begins in the mid-19th century and culminates with the women's suffrage movement. In America, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920, while British women gained suffrage in 1928. Kristin Miller of Apologia would have come of age during the second wave, which began in the late 1950s and continued into the ‘80s, and had major social impact in the U.S., Britain, and most Western countries.

World War II put women into jobs previously allotted only to men and gave a newfound sense of fulfillment; but post-war society pushed women out of the workplace and back into the domestic sphere. Growing dissatisfaction with traditional roles in the 1950s, along with increased economic prosperity and new technologies, raised women’s awareness and sparked questioning of the social norms which limited women’s life choices. In 1961, the FDA approved the birth control pill, and, while not yet widely legal, abortion also gave women greater choice about having children and establishing careers. Together, these factors led to a forceful current of feminist thought and activism.

Women march for the right to vote at the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913. Credit: Library of Congress


As a feminist scholar, Kristin would likely be familiar with the major literature of the second wave, including:

Le Deuxieme Sexe.

The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (1949)

De Beauvoir offers a historical view on how society holds women in subordinate roles. In declaring that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” De Beauvoir argues that gender roles are forced upon women. For example, World War II proved that women could transcend traditional gender roles, thus challenging the belief that they belonged in the domestic sphere.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

Through interviews, Friedan gave women a voice to express dissatisfaction with their place in 1950s society. The “feminine mystique” refers to an assumption that women should be fulfilled by domesticity; the inability to live up to this ideal is “the problem that has no name.” The book was a major catalyst for the second wave, and Friedan was a co-founder of the National Organization of Women.

"The Personal is Political” by Carol Hanisch (1970)

In this widely-read essay, Hanisch argued that everyday activities, including the division of household labor and enforcing of gender roles, were political acts and that public discussions of personal problems have political impact beyond any individual.


The second wave actually divided into two movements:

Mainstream, or “equal rights” feminism, focused on legislation and social pressure to change society from within. Equal-rights feminists were mostly older, white women from affluent backgrounds.

Radical feminism sought to disrupt society's hierarchical and patriarchal foundations. Radical feminists included younger white women and women of color, many of whom had been active in the Civil Rights movement.


In England, married women had limited rights to their own property. The 1964 Married Women’s Property Act allowed women to keep half of any savings they made from allowances received from their husbands (an indication of the limited rights women like Kristin would have had when she started her family). British feminism focused largely on issues of property and economic independence. The Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) organized eight national conferences between 1970 and 1978, leading to a series of demands for equality in marriage and the workplace, sexual freedom, reproductive rights, and protection from violence.


Some victories of the second wave in America included passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which aimed to abolish the gender pay gap, and the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. A series of Supreme Court cases through the ’60s and ’70s gave women the right to use birth control, and the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed the right to an abortion. Title IX, part of the Education Amendment of 1972, protected women from discrimination in all educational programs receiving federal funding.


The Second Wave ended in the 1980s. The United States’ failure in 1982 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment—which would guarantee all rights under the Constitution equally to all persons, regardless of their sex—is generally considered the demarcation point. Additionally, growing criticism of the focus on white women, to the the exclusion of others, led to a third wave in the 1990s. This movement put more emphasis on diversity of race, class, and sexuality, as well as the intersection of oppressed groups.

Apologia takes place in 2009, a time when some second wave feminists were defending their relevance and confronting negative side effects of their movement. A 2006 task force by the American Psychological Association noted that many younger women mistakenly believed that equality had been fully accomplished (significantly, the gender pay gap in 2009 was still 33%, and by 2016 it had only gone down to 20%). It also looked at how the media had created negative stereotypes of powerful women. A spokesperson for the effort acknowledged, “We've had trouble communicating feminism's continuing relevance to young people and people of color."


Although American-born, Kristin’s marriage and divorce would be subject to British law, which was, and remains to this day, unfavorable to women’s best interests. While many American states have “no-fault divorce,” allowing either party to request a divorce without accusing their spouse of wrongdoing, Britain uses an adversarial court system, based on an official statement of blame.

Until 1857, divorce in the U.K. could only be granted by the church, or by Parliament, which was available only for the very wealthy. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 allowed people to divorce in the courts under strict conditions. Men could divorce their wives for adultery, but women had to prove adultery plus an aggravating factor, such as rape or incest.

In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act allowed couples to divorce without such offenses, but it also required them to live in separation for two years. While more restrictive than America’s no-fault divorces, divorce rates in England and Wales increased from 30,000 in 1950 to 144,000 in 1978. The two-year separation period is still enforced today.

Child custody was generally granted to the husband, under the assumption that he was the primary breadwinner. Children may live with their mother, who provided care and control, but divorced women were presumed dependent on their husbands for alimony and child support, determined by the wife’s needs rather than the husband’s assets. Writer Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch (1970) explained, “The working wife has her income assessed as a part of her husband’s, and he on the other hand is not even obliged to tell her how much he earns.”

Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia

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Interview with Actress Janet McTeer

Posted on: November 2nd, 2018 by Ted Sod


Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Actor Janet McTeer about her work in "Bernhardt/Hamlet."

Janet McTeer. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When did you decide you wanted to become an actor? Did you have any teachers who had a profound impact on you?

Janet McTeer: I was born in Newcastle, in the north of England, to a family completely unrelated to my profession—how I managed to be an actor I’ve no idea! I caught my bus from school outside the local theatre and used to have coffee there. I just loved the place and got a job selling coffees there on a Saturday, so somehow got in to see all the plays. That made me decide to try to act, having only ever done one school play at the age of 13. I knew I had to give it a try, and luckily my family were wonderfully supportive. My two English teachers, Mrs. Green and Mrs. Surgener, were amazing. I loved them dearly, and they were an enormous help in my choosing speeches for my auditions.

TS: Why did you choose to play the title role in Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet?

JM: I was sent the play to do a reading of it and loved it immediately. It has wit, charm, interest, and the characters are fabulous. Since then we have done three readings and a workshop as Theresa has been honing the play.

TS: I realize the rehearsal process hasn’t begun yet, but can you share some of your preliminary thoughts about the role of Sarah Bernhardt? What made her such an enduring icon? What do you find most challenging and exciting about this role? What kind of preparation or research do you have to do, in order to play this role? How do you approach a historical character who has so much myth surrounding her?

JM: Sarah is, of course, an amazing icon. She paved the way for so many other actresses. She was an eccentric, forceful character. How much of her eccentricity was a clever use of publicity and how much her own—who can say? That will be a fun part of rehearsals! As she got older, she was appalled at the lack of great roles for older actresses, so decided just to play some of the men’s parts…hmmm, where have I heard that resounding complaint before??? I love that about her. What is exciting is attempting to embody this amazing person—gulp—whilst also showing her rehearsal process. I have read several books about her, trying to find the similarities between her and myself, somewhere deep down. When playing a historical figure, all you can do is attempt to meet them somewhere in the middle, between them and you. Otherwise, it would simply be a parody or a copy, not a rounded character from a deep place. As for the myth…take what is universally accepted, interpret what is assumed and helpful, and ditch the rest.

TS: What do you think the play is about? It tackles the idea that successful women are often treated with disdain when they display traits that are celebrated in men. It also suggests that theatre is an act of transformation for both artists and audiences. Any preliminary thoughts on either subject as you are about to begin rehearsals?

JM: The play is a celebration of Bernhardt and a celebration of the process of rehearsal, of women who refuse to take the common tack and fade gracefully away, of humor, of irreverence for the common way, of passion, and love, and theatre. All of which I thoroughly applaud.


Janet McTeer. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between Sarah and her son, Maurice? Do you see Sarah as having prioritized her career over being a parent? What do you think motivated Bernhardt to play the title role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet? She doesn’t seem to care for the character as Shakespeare wrote him—what do you think her attraction to the role is? How do you understand the relationship between Sarah and her lover, playwright Edmond Rostand? Is it simply transactional?

JM: Hmmm…hard to judge a parent…especially since we truthfully know only facts and report. What we do know is that they absolutely adored each other and lived often in each other’s pockets. She gave him masses of money, adored it when she was a grandmother, didn’t speak to him for a year over a political disagreement, and she died in his arms. She sounds like an adoring, irritating, unusual, interesting, inspirational, infuriating, endlessly entertaining, iconic mother, and that doesn’t sound too bad to me.

Hamlet has the greatest words ever written—who wouldn’t want to play him? I don’t think she hates the words as written…remember almost all Shakespeare plays are seen now in a trimmed and cut version. I recently did an all-female The Taming of the Shrew and we cut it probably in half…what’s so different? She’s just wrestling with, as she says, too many words. She went on to perform it many times extremely successfully, so...

No one really knows what her relationship with Rostand was. She clearly had many lovers, so why shouldn’t he have been one? They did stay friends for many, many years, and for the purpose of this play and to show that side of her character—she clearly loves him.

TS: How do you like to collaborate with a writer on a new work? Can you describe what the development process has been like for you on this play?

JM: It’s been fabulous. Theresa Rebeck is wonderful: open, amusing, furiously clever, collaborative, and delightful. Moritz, the director, and Theresa and I have been open with ideas, opinions, questions, and themes—all of which she has taken on board, if only as food for thought. It has been a joy.

Jason Butler Harner, Janet McTeer and Dylan Baker. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: What do you look for from a director when collaborating on a new play?

JM: Intelligence, openness, a willingness to collaborate, i.e., not to have fixed ideas, and to do it all with a good grace and humor! All of which Moritz has in spades. He, too, is a joy.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist? Public school students will read this interview and will want to know what it takes to be a very successful actress—what advice can you give young people who want to act?

JM: I am constantly surprised by the amount of talented amazing people there are, both young and old, and as long as something grabs me, it just does. Why do some paintings or pieces of music grab us the way others don’t? Perhaps because they reflect something in ourselves, or a dream we have, or a reason we can’t put our finger on? Some things just grab you. Perhaps the mystery is the fun. And some things you do to pay the mortgage, let’s be honest—the trick is to attempt to do both!

My advice to anyone wanting to be an actor: if it’s the only thing you can possibly think you want to do…do it. If there are other things you want to do, don’t do it. It’s a tough profession. Self-employed, endless auditions—particularly when young. Far too much travel, which can be fun, yet is often simply exhausting, being away from the people you love. In other words, the price is high—so if you aren’t prepared to pay it —don’t. But if you are and it works—it’s fabulous—it’s the very best! The people, the work, the art, the fun, the never getting bored, the massive, massive fulfillment and gratification when a job goes well. But be prepared to work hard. Very, very hard. If you’re young and starting out, put the work in all the time. And write this on a post-it note and put it on your mirror —or have it as your screensaver: “Someone has to succeed. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be me.” Good luck. When its grand, it’s truly grand, and there is always, always room for young talent. Always.

Bernhardt/Hamlet is playing at the American Airlines Theatre through November 11, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Bernhardt/Hamlet

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