“The Woman Hater” is equal parts comedy of humours, sentimental comedy, gothic/sentimental tragedy, and farce.
– Christine McBurney
“The Woman Hater” seems like a harsh title for a play, but this comedy takes aim at both sexes. Playing August 18 – September 4, 2016, Mamaí Theatre Company will present this Fanny Burney piece with a cast of 16, and director Christine McBurney says, “Don’t be surprised if we end the night in a jig.”
McBurney answered some questions regarding the production.
Kate Klotzbach: The 1802 comedy “The Woman Hater” was un-produced until 2008?! Why was this production kept under wraps for so long?
Christine McBurney: In 1945 the New York Public Library acquired some of Frances (Fanny) Burney’s writings. “The Woman Hater” was among them. Known primarily as a novelist, a friend and mentor to Jane Austen, (who got the title “Pride and Prejudice” from Fanny’s 1782 novel Cecilia) and called “the mother of English fiction” by Virginia Woolf, Fanny’s plays weren’t published until 1995. She wrote 8.
One, a tragedy she’d penned while working as Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charolette (wife of King George III) was produced in her lifetime and it closed opening night. Her father forbade her to write for the stage, despite being encouraged by family friends such as the famous actor David Garrick and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Irish playwright who wrote “School for Scandal” and who owned London’s Drury Lane Theatre). Her father felt her comedy “The Witlings” (a prototype of “The Woman Hater”) critiqued the inhabitants of her London salon society too acutely and perhaps even more so, adhered to the thinking of the time which was that the theatre was no place for a lady. There was a 2003 UK production and a 2015 staged reading in New York by the wonderful classical theatre company, Red Bull Theatre.
KK: How does it make fun of both men and women?
CM: It lampoons misogyny in men and sensibility in women. The cult of sensibility was popular in the 18th century. Sensibility refers to the over reliance on feeling and emotion via crying, blushing, fainting. It was gendered and sexualized. Fanny Burney and Jane Austen (“Sense and Sensibility”) challenged it in their works.
KK: Would you rather stay where you are today? Or would you rather have lived in the 1800s?
CM: Oh, I love this period but not the systems of class and primogeniture. I don’t think I could’ve made the leap from working class to middle class if I’d lived back then, unless I was able to find, like Elizabeth Bennet, a Mr. Darcy. But I’m a sucker for the fashion, language, wit, and manners.
KK: How is the notion of sexism different in 1802 than it is in 2016?
CM: Is it? Tremendous strides have been made by men and women regarding women’s equality, but sexism hasn’t gone away. There are laws preventing overt sexism, yes, but there are behaviors that have remained constant. We’re still dealing with the notion that women’s rights are human rights, equal pay for equal work, childcare, the chipping away of Roe v. Wade, attacks on Planned Parenthood and the murdering of its doctors; the relentless objectification and hyper sexualization of women in media, the outrageous misogyny of the Republican Party’s presidential nominee (Donald Trump), and how the first woman presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton) is treated.
KK: With which character do you most identify and why?
CM: Miss Wilmot, the daughter of estranged husband and wife Wilmot and Eleonora. She pushes sensibility to its extremes, illuminates the nurture vs. nature argument, challenges notions of propriety, and takes on the class system. She doesn’t want to be a genteel young lady. She wants to become a ballad singer. She’d rather dance on the furniture. And she does. I also identify a bit with Lady Smatter, a malaprop with literary pretensions.
Identities are mistaken, social pretensions are deliciously exposed, and the gender constructs of wifely and daughterly duties are boldly upended — bringing forth a new kind of heroine.
KK: Why will audiences love this piece?
CM: We have an incredibly gifted cast and crew for starters. But also, if you love Jane Austen’s characters and language and the films and plays based on these novels, you’ll love “The Woman Hater”. It’s highly entertaining. Theatrically, Burney has been called the missing link between Sheridan and Oscar Wilde. Fanny borrowed the lampooning of misogyny from Beaumont and Fletcher’s play of the same name (1607). And I think she also has a lot in common with another famous English borrower, Shakespeare. Like the bard, she steals, but makes the work her own. “The Woman Hater” is equal parts comedy of humours, sentimental comedy, gothic/sentimental tragedy, and farce. I call Act 5 our “As You Like It” act where everyone shows up in the woods to sort out all the interwoven plot lines. Mistaken identities are corrected, families reunited, lovers reconciled, haters turned into lovers, and there are wedding bells. Don’t be surprised if we end the night in a jig.
“The Woman Hater” (presented by Mamaí Theatre Company) runs August 18 – September 4, 2016 at Cleveland Masonic Performing Arts Center, DeMolay Room, 3615 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH.
Ticket Prices: $22 Adults, $20 Senior (65 & Older), $15 Student (25 & Under)
$10 Discounts: 2nd Thursdays for Neohiopal Subscribers & 3rd Thursdays for AEA Members!
For more information, visit www.mamaitheatreco.org.
Correction 08/06/16: the show was not produced until 2008, not 2003 as previously stated.
THE CAST OF “THE WOMAN HATER”
Photos courtesy of the Mamaí Theatre Company website.