Brock University’s Dramatic Arts department opened it’s winter mainstage this past Friday at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA) with Top Girls, a 1982 play by Caryl Churchill about a career-driven woman named Marlene (played by Helena Ciuciura) and her interest in women progressing in the business world. The play was directed by Danielle Wilson, a professor at Brock University, and involved an all-female cast.
Known for its opening dinner scene involving Marlene in what appears to be a dream-like world where she interacts with famous depictions of women both literal and fictional, Top Girls is a play that questions not only the role of women in society or how far a woman may need to go to be considered successful, but what constitutes a successful woman. The cost of success is often muddled by characters like Marlene’s sister, Louise (Samantha Mastrella), her niece Angie (Emma McCormick), as well as a different and varying depictions of women.
The play also alludes to Margaret Thatcher, the British stateswoman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990. Thatcher, despite being the first female Prime Minister, did not include women’s issues in her platform and, instead, suggested that any woman as qualified as she was would have achieved the same success.
This concept of women and meritocracy is embedded throughout the entirety of the show.
“The biggest question the show seems to ask — what would you sacrifice to get to the top — I think is something that everyone can relate to,” said Manchari Paranthan, a second year dramatic arts student at Brock who played the roles of Pope Joan, Jeanine, and Nell. “The issues and themes present in the play are still relevant to us now, even though it was written in the 80’s.”
When asked what role she enjoyed taking on the most, Paranthahan said Pope Joan.
“Pope Joan in general has a very interesting life, where she disguises herself as a man to be with her lover and ends up climbing the church hierarchy and becoming Pope,” said Paranthahan. “Her story, as well as every other character’s in the dinner scene, all speak to the unfair ways women have been treated over time and how they persisted regardless, which I think is a very powerful message.”
Additional to underlying depictions of women and what constitutes success, the play also involves a beautiful, edgy, and intricate set as well as whole variety of costumes. For the backstage crew, this meant a whirlwind of quick set and costume changes.
“It is so stressful and time consuming and sometimes you just want to curl up in a ball and sleep, but being able to see the show you worked so hard on come together, and share such wonderful moments with the cast and crew that have become a family to you makes every moment worth it,” said Rachel Frederick, a second year dramatic arts student and a dresser in the Top Girls backstage crew. “Being backstage is kind of like being in a hurricane, everything is going by so fast and it can get pretty chaotic but then you have moments of quiet where you’re just sitting and waiting and before you know it the show is over.”
The show utilized a mixture of audio-visual cues with a mix of 80’s and contemporary song choices to break between each scene.
The show runs from March 2 to March 10. If you would like to purchase tickets for the upcoming shows, they can be purchased at the Box Office in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (FOPAC) or online at firstontariopac.ca/Online/default.asp
The Dramatic Arts Department has also dedicated the mainstage to Katherine Oswald, “one of our own ‘top girls’, whom we lost to soon. To her peers, she was a role model, a force to be reckoned with, and a contagiously positive energy. She taught us to be the best versions of ourselves every day, and she adored the theatre; we strive to perform with this same spirit in memory of Katherine.”