Historical Inspiration for the Play

Joanna is a “century-spanning Lower East Side lesbian love fable.” It uses Cris Williamson’s song Joanna as a starting point for a play that reflects the twentieth century with its unique situations for women in general and lesbians in particular.

This is the sixth play of mine to be produced by Theater for the New City. I wanted to take advantage of the tremendous good fortune of having a home for my work in New York City to take risks with time and structure.

Although for the main characters-Joanna and her sister Millie-only one day in the year 1900 goes by, outside their apartment a century passes. Characters from different times enter the apartment and interact with Joanna and Millie. Avoiding the usual 20th century landmarks, I selected events less represented onstage-Jewish lesbians facing arranged marriages in 1900, the influenza epidemic of 1919, the war in Vietnam and its homefront disturbances and, finally, the present-day era of out of control “gentrification” of New York City neighborhoods. The significance of these events is conveyed by the situations of the characters whose lives are affected by them and by their interaction with Millie and Joanna.

I try in every play to show physicality between women onstage. The more that people see of us behaving lovingly and romantically with each other, the less they will be able to sensationalize a kiss between two straight same-sex characters on TV.

As with all my plays, I have given Joanna a happy or at least a hopeful ending. Because I am one of a small number of out lesbian playwrights who are able to get their work produced in New York (and elsewhere), I am determined to offer such positive tales to my audiences.

I am delighted to have received permission to use Cris Williamson’s song in the production.

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It is always a pleasure to enjoy a small and special theatrical production.  This play, subtitled “Get Down Off the Ceiling, Joanna” is certainly one of them.

Barbara Kahn, the playwright/director has won numerous awards throughout the years, and this historical fable depicting the lives of women in general and lesbians in particular breaks new ground by taking an inspired risk in time and structure.

The play opens in 1900 on the Lower East Side with two Jewish sisters.  Joanna has run away from an arranged marriage; Millie is swept with anger, guilt and love for her sister and, when Joanna is disowned by her parents, Millie stays with her in the abandoned apartment.

For the sisters, only one day in the year 1900 goes by, but outside, time is moving forward. Throughout the century, various characters visit the apartment and bring a bit of historical reality into the sisters’ world.
There’s the 1919 influenza epidemic; there’s the depression; there’s the war in Vietnam; and there is the gentrification of the New York neighborhood.

Throughout the play, there is physicality between women. In one instance it is a seduction. In another instance it is a exuberant mime interpretation of the 1960s. And in yet another, there is a very modern struggle for a gun. In the most sensitive [instance] of all however, there is no touching  at all. The physicality comes through in the monologue of the pregnant Chava, who as she describes her awakening love for Joanna.

The play is strongest in the first act, as the characters are introduced and developed in some depth and there’s serious drama and erotic sensuality. The mime in the second act is a bit discordant and even though it was creatively inspired, I yearned for some dialog, which is the playwright’s strongest suit.

For those who love theater, this play should not be missed. It is a journey through time, an exploration into sensitive relationships and a subtle statement about women in the twentieth century.

Now playing at the Theater for the New City, First Avenue at 10th Street, Thursdays through Sundays through April 16, this play is a bargain at the admission price of only $10.


Linda Linguvic – TheVillage Gazette

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Quotes from review on Chelsea Journal, which will be aired after we close:

“Very imaginative”

“Beautifully acted by beautiful people.”

“Millie, Joanna’s sister (Jennifer De Martino), was marvelous-the best in a marvelous cast”

“The two mimes (Katy Hawley and Stacey Deemar) were priceless. I’m still laughing at their expressions, especially when they notice Joanna.”

Directed by Barbara Kahn and Lisa Marjorie Barnes

Kathleen Carthy
Stacy Deemar
Jennifer De Martino
Vita Dennis
Sansan Fibri
Katy Hawley,
Debbie Marchese
Camille Torres.

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Stage Manager – Kirby Wendland
Costume Design – Andy Wallach
Lighting design – Christopher Weston
Graphics design – Virginia Asman
Mime choreography – Sansan Fibri
Photography – Joe Bly

This production is made possible in part by the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and by the Jerome Foundation’s support of TNC’s Emerging Playwrights Program.