A new play at the Gallery Theater takes a look at 1960s suburban America and what happened when women began to break out of their traditional roles.
The original comedy/drama "The Birthday Present" opens Friday, May 18, at the theater located in the Eccles Community Art Center. The play was written and directed by Roy playwright Duane Rygh, who is stationed at Hill Air Force Base. Rygh -- who has served in Iraq and Korea -- is a student of philosophy, psychology, playwriting and poetry, according to Gallery Theater producer Clarence Socwell.
When he was stationed in Korea, Rygh was actively involved in theatrical productions. He has also had other works performed at the Gallery Theater. The playwright and actor has studied the feminist movement extensively, as well as the life and works of iconic writer Sylvia Plath, which was the impetus for "The Birthday Present," according to Socwell.
The play examines what happens when a husband discovers that his wife has been keeping a secret for 12 years. Set in 1963, "The Birthday Present" unfolds in a time when women were expected to take care of their homes, husbands and children. The men are the breadwinners and enjoy the good life, while the women spend their days visiting with each other, doing PTA activities and passing their time with other suburban activities.
However, Vivian Fisher wants more out of her life. She has been writing book reviews for years on her typewriter, which she hides in the laundry room. She has been covering the life and death of Plath, who died in 1963, and has also reviewed the controversial "The Feminine Mystique," a nonfiction book by Betty Friedan. The book is credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States, Socwell said.
Vivian's reviews have been so successful that her editor shows up at her home to persuade her to move to Boston, where she can be in direct contact with the publishing industry. Her husband, Jack Fisher, has been blissfully unaware of his wife's secret life, but that's about to change. More complications arise when the couple's daughter Stephanie arrives home to break the news that she is quitting school.
How does Jack react to all of this? The play explores that question, and what happens when he is forced to change his attitude about women working.
The role of Vivian is played by Roy actress Laurie Allen, who has also performed in productions at Heritage Theatre and Terrace Plaza Playhouse. Like many community theater performers who take to the stage without monetary compensation, Allen said she enjoys working in theater "because it's in my blood. I have to do it."
Other cast members include Ogden actor Rand Briem as Jack Fisher, Weber State University student Katie Forsberg of North Ogden as Stephanie, Bev Wilcox of South Ogden as Vivian's neighbor Grace, and Eden resident Paul Birkbeck as the editor Albert Wells. In addition to acting, Birkbeck also writes and directs many plays, including the recent production of "Disappearing Act" at the Gallery Theater.
During its season, Gallery Theater performs four original plays in the intimate venue, located in the basement of the Eccles Community Art Center in Ogden.
"We are always looking for original plays as well as actors," Socwell said in a press release. "So come to watch an intriguing play, and to find out where you might fit in with next year's season."