The current production at IU’s intimate T-300 is of "Top Girls" by Caryl Churchill. "Top Girls" is really two plays. The first presents a fascinating gallery of characters talking at length as they compare their varied experiences. The second uses the actors from the first but in a modern drama of the role of women in the business world that ends in a chilling standoff.
The play begins innocently enough with an all female dinner party. The guests include a mix of historical and imaginary characters. There’s 19 th century Scottish traveler, a thirteenth century Japanese courtesan, a woman from a sixteenth century painting by Brueghel, a legendary ninth century female pope and a woman out of Bocaccio and Petrarch. The host seems to be a relatively normal modern career woman. It’s appropriate that director Debra Hale is the Theatre Department’s dialect coach, because there’s a real rainbow of accents to enjoy along with the very interesting variety of costumes done by Joanne Marsden.
Jessika Partidge was all burr and stoicism as the trousered Scots adventurer. Lady Nijo from Japan was perhaps the stiffist test of a consistent accent and was nicely handled by Melissa Joy Nedell. Erin Hillier was appropriately oafish and though monosyllabic, tellingly so as the Dull Gret. Pope Joan was portrayed by Emily Rhodes. At first the Pope was rather arch about her story, but then as she lapsed into the Latin of the pagan philosopher Lucretius, she seemed transported. Carrie Andrews was an appropriately late comer as the Patient Griselda. After all, waiting was what the fabled Griselda did best.
Throughout the guests’ recitations, businesswoman Marlene played by Carolyn Klein was always gracefully and graciously in charge. Topics ranged far and wide with frequent and neatly handled interweaving of conversations Motherhood, children, status of women, religious beliefs, illnesses, implied comments on the status of women, anger, rebellion, and the status of women were key topics. None of these colorful and successful characters had normal families and lives. Love was so mixed with duty or convention as to be meaningless. Pregnancy was a threat or a requirement. The relationship with the male world was frequently threatening.
Following dinner, except for Marlene as an executive with a job placement firm, everyone changed costumes at least once for a modern drama. The setting in Britain in the 1980s with Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as the twin beacons of commercial ethics and promise. We see Marlene and her colleagues actually undermine their clients so that the women will be more likely to take the available jobs. We learn that Marlene and her sister, Jessica Partridge, haven’t visited in six years and that they share a sixteen-year old child, well played by Erin Hillier, who is certain to be one of the "lazy, stupid and frightened" people that Marlene has been preaching as one of those who will have a dreadful time in life. The final scene of "Top Girls" gives us two talented women, sisters, but with chillingly little real regard for each other or at root, themselves.