The male midlife crisis has been examined in exhaustive detail in everything from John Updike's novels to plays such as Tracy Letts' Linda Vista at Steppenwolf last spring. But it's harder to find stories that center women's existential conflicts around aging, especially from a lesbian point of view. ( Claudia Allen's plays remain a prominent exception. )
In The Days Are Shorter, which opened May 10 with Pride Films and Plays, Evanston-based playwright Corinne J. Kawecki creates a quartet of characters who illuminate different aspects of the ages of women. In particular, the play focuses on Julia ( Pat Parks ), a 53-year-old who is seemingly adrift professionally and personally in the wake of a break-up with her longtime partner Pax ( Gay Glenn ). Julia has taken up with Treat ( Kendra Verhage ), a much younger woman who wants to be a professional magician, and also meets Ada ( Joan McGrath ), a woman in her 70s who isn't about to fade away.
Throughout the play, we hear a woman's voice commenting on Julia's actions and coaxing her to consider alternatives. Kawecki creates a world that is realist but slightly askew. "I envisioned it to be an alternate reality," Kawecki said in a phone interview, adding "Given the alternate reality, having Treat be a magician or magician wannabe was very appropriate." The card tricks Treat performs provide another perspective on manipulating reality. Julia also experiences intense insomnia, as do many people as they age. That condition makes us question even more whether what Julia is experiencing is "real" or the consequence of sleep deprivation.
Kawecki started working on the play in 2008, but it came to the attention of Pride Films and Plays when it was a finalist in the 2016 LezPlay competition. Artistic director Nelson Rodriguez gave the script to director Iris Sowlat, who felt drawn to Kawecki's characters immediately.
In a phone interview, Sowlat said of Julia, "The height of the most anxious time in her life comes with this complete deadness and lack of passion and lack of drive." But though all the characters are lesbian, both Sowlat and Kawecki noted that what happens to Julia happens to many people of all genders and identities. "There is nothing in the play that is unique to lesbians," said Kawecki, though she also noted that part of the inspiration for her plays is that "I always like to turn things to the positive and I thinkI really just speak for myselfwe need to write for older women. All of my other full-length plays are about women in their 40s, 50s, 60s. It's very important. We know a lot about men of that age group and we really don't know a lot about women."
Sowlat said "This play has four completely three-dimensional characters and three of them are over 50 and all of them are queer. That's like a unicorn."
One of the readers for The Days Are Shorter in the LezPlay competition, Laura K. Henderson, is the founder and executive producer of Michigan's Queer Theatre Kalamazoo. She produced it at her theater this past January, which gave Kawecki a chance to make some changes before the Chicago premiere with Pride Films and Plays. "I found the ending there," she said. ( Of course, that won't be revealed here. )
Throughout the play, Julia's interactions with Pax, Treat and Ada help fill in pieces of the puzzle. Sowlat said "The three other women are what she aspired to be or aspires to be at different ages. She finds herself drawn to pieces of them and comparing herself to them. She also can't stop wishing that she had the energy of a 25-year-old [which is Treat's age in the play]." Sowlat also noted "Julia has a history of defining herself by her partner. First Pax, and then Treat, who is like the shiny new Ferrari she went after in this midlife crisis."
At one point, Ada tells Julia "But the key is you must love that 53-year-old dreamer." Kawecki noted that finding the character of Ada was "divine inspiration" that helped her figure out the arc of the play.
As to what audiences will make of the alternate reality in The Days Are Shorterwell, Kawecki said "If people want to believe it's a dream, they will believe it's a dream. And I don't care. Everybody goes to the theater and everybody comes out with something different." The underlying message of Kawecki's play is the importance of embracing one's uniqueness at each stage of the journey, even ( or especially ) as time grows short.