The Mint’s next production, Women Without Men, will begin performances January 30th and continue through March 26th at Stage II space at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street).

Hazel Ellis’s Women Without Men will be directed by Jenn Thompson (Abundance, The Late Christopher Bean, The Eccentricities of A Nightingale). The play explores the clash of conflicting natures and petty competitions that erupt amongst the cloistered teaching staff of an all-girls boarding school.

Hazel Ellis began her theatrical career as a member of the acting ensemble of the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Her first play as author—a study of Lord Byron titled Portrait in Marble—opened at the Gate in 1936.  Reviewing that production, The Irish Times noted, “Dublin is able to welcome a good play by a new Irish author—a sufficiently rare occurrence, and one which suggests that Irish drama is about to take a turn for the better.” Her only other play, Women Without Men, was produced only once in 1938 at the Gate Theatre. “Here is a very young author and this is her second play, yet she had the wisdom to give us one of the finest pieces of true realism we have seen in Dublin,” wrote The Irish Tatler and Sketch. The Evening Herald echoed the praise: “Clever characterization, witty dialogue and a serious vein go to make Women Without Men one of the outstanding successes of the present season.” Despite acclaim, the play has never been published or revived.

Mint’s production of Women Without Men will be its first in 77 years—and its American Premiere! Notably, it will also continue Mint’s concerted effort to produce the work of forgotten female dramatists. “Although the Mint Theater Company is justly lauded for its rehabilitation of forgotten works, I don’t think Jonathan Bank’s outfit gets enough credit for its unwavering dedication to women writers,” wrote Elizabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post in 2012. “For me, it’s the plays written by women that have resonated the most. Maybe because the pay-off is sweeter: these women had descended into an obscurity even more pitch-black than that of the male writers produced by the Mint — if it’s hard for female writers to make it to the stage, it’s even harder for their works to be revived.” In the past Mint Theater has produced plays by Cicely Hamilton, Susan Glaspell, Rachel Crothers, Githa Sowerby, Teresa Deevy, and others. Hazel Ellis joins the list of extraordinary — but shamefully neglected — female playwrights.

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By Maya Cantu

The author of two “remarkably fine” plays marked by their “subtle characterization” (The Tatler) and “delicacy of treatment” (The Dublin Opinion), Hazel Ellis cut a bright swath through the Irish theatre, during her brief career as a playwright. Starting as an actress with the Gate Theatre, Ellis enjoyed great successes with her richly observed ensemble dramas Portrait in Marble (1936) and Women Without Men (1938), before virtually disappearing from the Dublin stage at the age of thirty.

The daughter of Arthur B. Ellis and his wife Florence, Hazel Beatrice Ellis was born in 1909 in Rathmines, a middle-class South Dublin neighborhood where her father worked as a solicitor. As a teenager, she attended the French School of Bray, in suburban Dublin. A private girls’ boarding school respected for the quality of its liberal arts and musical education, strictly run by its small female staff, the French School later supplied Ellis with the imaginative basis for Women Without Men. After graduating from the French School, Ellis attended Trinity College. “A young, attractive, golden haired girl” (as described by The Evening Mail), the soft-spoken Ellis blossomed as an actress with Trinity’s Elizabethan Society Players, playing Ophelia in Hamlet.

In 1929, Ellis became a company member of Dublin’s Gate Theatre. Earning particularly strong praise for her comic acting, Ellis appeared in supporting roles in a wide variety of plays at the Gate: ranging from The Cherry Orchard and Denis Johnston’s Expressionist satire The Old Lady Says No!, to Mary Manning’s comedy of manners Youth’s the Season and a tongue-in-cheek revival of the melodrama Sweeney Todd.

In 1936, Ellis stunned the Dublin theatre world with her emergence as a playwright. As an Evening Mail profile described her, “Miss Ellis is so quiet and unassuming that nobody would have expected that beneath it all, she was quietly arranging the substance of her play.” Portrait in Marble traced Lord Byron’s relationships with his wife and his mistress, Lady Caroline Lamb, as well as his friendship with the Irish poet Thomas Moore. The period drama impressed critics as the twenty-five year old actress’s first effort: “Portrait in Marble has none of the patchiness and uncertainty that one associates with a first attempt…its admirable clearness and skill might be envied by a more experienced playwright,” observed The Irish Times.

Ellis continued to develop her craft with the innovative, all-female Women Without Men. Set in the fictional Malyn Park Private School, Women Without Men joined Christa Winsloe’s 1930 German play Mädchen in Uniform (or Girls in Uniform; produced at the Gate in 1934) and Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour in the popular 1930s’ genre of girls’ school dramas, while setting off Ellis’s distinctive voice as a chronicler of Dublin women. The Evening Herald observed, “Clever characterization, witty dialogue, and a serious vein running through six scenes to make Women Without Men one of the outstanding success of the present season at the Gate Theatre.

Seemingly on the verge of a major playwriting career, Ellis stepped behind the closed curtains of domestic life—though her two marriages were turbulent. Her love for the theater remained intact, however. She continued to perform in local productions in Dalkey and Mill Hill, London, where she eventually relocated. After a long illness, she died at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, on April 10th, 1986.

Creatives:

Director: Jenn Thompson
Sets: Vicki R. Davis
Costumes: Martha Hally
Lights: Traci Klainer Polimeni
Original Music & Sound: Jane Shaw
Props: Joshua Yocom
Hair and Wigs: Robert-Charles Vallance
Dialects & Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Production Manager: Chris Batstone

Cast:

Mary Bacon
Joyce Cohen
Shannon Harrington
Kate Middleton
Aedin Moloney
Alexa Shae Niziak
Kellie Overbey
Dee Pelletier
Beatrice Tulchin
Emily Walton
Amelia White

PANEL DISCUSSION: WOMEN WORKING IN THEATER (WITH AND WITHOUT MEN)
Featuring the creative team of Women Without Men and moderated by Ludovica Villar-Hauser

Sunday, January 31, after the matinee

A recent study by the League of Professional Theatre Women found that less than 35% of the major creative jobs Off and Off-Off-Broadway during the 2014-2015 season were held by women. In this panel discussion, the all-female creative team of Women Without Men will discuss their careers as working women in the theater, as well as their unique experience working together on this production. The panel will feature Jenn Thompson (Director), Vicki R. Davis (Sets), Martha Hally (Costumes), Traci Klainer Polimeni (Lights), Jane Shaw (Sound), Amy Stoller (Dialects & Dramaturgy), and Judy Bowman (Casting)—and will be moderated by Ludovica Villar-Hauser (Founder of Works by Women & Co-Secretary of the League of Professional Theatre Women).

A SCHOOL FOR LADIES: EDUCATION IN 1930s IRELAND
Maureen O. Murphy, Hofstra University

Saturday, February 13, after the matinee

Maureen Murphy is Professor of Curriculum and Teaching, and Co-Director of the undergraduate Irish Studies minor at Hofstra University. Professor Murphy is a past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies and a past chair of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures. Her discussion will provide social and historical context for the play, and will focus on the history of education in Ireland.

HAZEL ELLIS AND DUBLIN’S GATE THEATRE
Chris Morash, Trinity College Dublin

Saturday, February 27, after the matinee

Chris Morash returns to the Mint for his fifth year. He currently holds post as the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin. He is co-editor of Mint’s publication Teresa Deevy Reclaimed: Volume I, as well as the forthcoming Volume II. While Dublin’s Abbey Theatre was Ireland’s best known theatre internationally in the early years of the twentieth century, some of the most interesting theatre in Ireland in the 1930s was actually produced at the Gate Theatre in Dublin—where Women Without Men was first performed in 1938. This talk will look at the theatre, the people, and the ideas that formed the context for that first production.

WOMEN WITHOUT THEATRE? IRISH FEMALE PIONEERS OF THE 1930s
Chris Morash, Trinity College Dublin

Sunday, February 28, after the matinee

The Irish Constitution of 1937 was clear about the role of women in society: “The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” And yet, in spite of this, women played an important part in the theatre culture of the time. This talk looks at some of these female pioneers—including some who were associated with the Gate Theatre—and will explore the issues faced by women in Irish theatre, both then and today.

THE 1916 RISING AND THE IRISH THEATRE
Chris Morash, Trinity College Dublin

Monday, February 29 at 6:30PM

At the American Irish Historical Society
991 5th Ave. (Between 80th and 81st Streets)

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, a key moment in the history of modern Ireland. Many of the key figures involved in the Easter Rising were also actively involved in the theatre, whether as playwrights, actors or directors. This special, off-site lecture will look at some of the ways in which the Irish theatre helped shape the events the culminated in Easter Week, 1916—to the point that it becomes possible to ask if we can understand the Rising itself as a (deadly serious) form of theatre.

This talk will be followed by a reception with light refreshments. Seating is very limited. For reservations please call 212.315.0231.

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