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Vanderbilt University Theatre will explore themes related to teenage pregnancy and the Black experience during the 1950s with its latest production, Unfinished Women Cry in No Man’s Land While a Bird Dies in a Gilded Cage.
The mid-20th-century drama, which is directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Kristyl D. Tift, opens on Friday, Nov. 4, at 8 p.m. in Neely Auditorium.
The late Aishah Rahman, a noted African American playwright and author, juxtaposes two stories and places in Unfinished Women: the Hide-A-Wee Home for Unwed Mothers, where girls (unfinished women) from diverse backgrounds find themselves; and Pasha’s boudoir, where Bebop jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker spends his last days in a narcotic fog with his mistress.
“In Unfinished Women, time is cyclical—past, present and future come together,” Tift said. “Incorporating the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people, Rahman insists that three worlds exist simultaneously: that of the unborn, the living and the dead.
“The two separate spaces in this story connect Parker, a legendary musician, to five teenage girls who love him: Wilma, Midge, Mattie, Consuelo and Paulette,” Tift said. “They all must choose whether to keep their babies or give them up for adoption on the same day that Parker dies.”
Rahman’s play, which she called a “polydrama,” was first produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1977.
“While directing this play, I thought about how reproductive choice in the contemporary moment speaks to stories of teenage mothers of the past,” Tift said. “I also considered the impact of substance abuse on our brightest stars. These musings led me, ultimately, to focus on the very notion of choice—how we come to choose what/who we choose and how we live with those choices.”
Phillip Franck, professor of theatre and department chair, designed the set and lighting for Unfinished Women. He and Tift partnered on the sound design. Others contributing to the production include Hannah Challman, costume designer, and Liz Haynes, assistant professor of the practice of theatre, as technical director. The show also features live music by saxophonist Max Dvorin, Fred Coe Artist-in-Residence.
Performances after opening night are at the following times:
- Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m.
- Saturday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m.