Marriage has changed a heck of a lot since 1917.
Or has it?
Fresno City College tackles the question with Jesse Lynch Williams' "Why Marry?," which won the very first Pulitzer Prize for drama. We caught up via email to talk with director James Knudsen about the production.
Question: What is the play about?
Answer: Marriage. Who gets married, why they get married and why they don't, to name a few of the things discussed in this play. The institution of marriage is debated by members of the clergy, law and business world, while young couples try and find what will work for them. It's worth noting that the play is set in an America that still does not have universal suffrage and a woman working late into the evening with a male co-worker is enough to cause a scandal.
Some plays don't stand the test of time. Why do you think "Why Marry?" still works today?
Marriage is still front-page news. Divorce rates, same-sex marriage, the declining numbers of couples getting married are all things we're still discussing. The subject matter is still relevant. Some aspects, particularly the opportunities available to women, have seen tremendous change. But the main question, what makes a relationship valid -- love or its legal standing -- that's still with us.
Directors often excise parts of classic plays, such as Shakespeare's, because of archaic language. Did you feel the need to do this at all with "Why Marry?"
I have the advantage of having participated in a production of this play when I was an actor in Los Angeles. The director of that production edited the text heavily. It's now in public domain and so there's no issue regarding doing that. I also edited the original version, mainly to reduce the length of the play. Many of the statements made by the playwright, Jesse Lynch Williams, are made more than once. What was once a three-act play is now two.
What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
A new perspective on their nation. What kind of a place we were. This is the most dynamic country on the planet, but we were a nation that once held very rigid views regarding what women could or should do. Whether we're better off for letting go of those views is for the individual to decide. I think we're a better nation having made women equal stake holders in society.
Read an extended interview with director James Knudsen at the Beehive.
"Why Marry?" through March 9, Fresno City College Theatre. fresnocitycollege.edu/boxofficetickets, (559) 442-8221. Tickets: $14, $12 students and seniors.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
, (559) 441-6363 or @donaldbeearts on Twitter.