For One Night Only, an “Infinite Expression” of Women Talking

It’s three days before Oscar-nomination voting begins, and Sarah Polley knows this can be the hard part. “People refer to this part of releasing a film as soul-destroying,” the director of Women Talking said during a crowded Monday evening reception at the West Village restaurant Hancock St. She understands what they are talking about, having had those experiences too, but she is more grateful for the moments of “connection.”

She had experienced that just minutes prior, at a special night of theater organized around and inspired by her film. Women Talking: An Evening of Wild Female Imagination featured three short plays composed with the themes of Polley’s work in mind. “There are a lot of amazing moments of connection with people that you are excited to be in the same room as, including the playwrights tonight,” she said. “Where you feel like you are having a conversation, or someone says something that just shifts you a little bit. And that’s kind of all you hope for as an artist generally.” 

Put together by Audible Theater’s Kate Navin and by Seth Fradkoff for Women Talking distributor Orion Pictures, the event was presented at the small Minetta Lane Theatre, and introduced by Heidi Schreck, author and performer of the Tony-nominated What the Constitution Means to Me. Schreck, who called Polley “my idol,” praised the film as both “harrowing” and “hopeful.” Women Talking, based on the Miriam Toews novel, follows women in a remote Mennonite community deciding their future after a series of horrific rapes. The three commissioned writers—Sandra Delgado, Ruth Tang, and Brittany K. Allen—were asked to riff on the options debated by the characters in the film: “do nothing,” “stay and fight,” or “leave.” The program was rounded out by a musical number by Tony nominee Eva Noblezada of Hadestown, who sang The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and a discussion between Polley, Schreck, and the playwrights. 

Allen wrote a monologue performed by The Afterparty star Zoë Chao in the voice of a woman leaving a voice memo to a “lapsed” best friend, while on a road trip from New Orleans to Chicago to get an abortion. Speaking at the following reception, Allen said she was “giddy” at the opportunity. “It’s a really lovely thing to acknowledge inspiration in art this way,” she said. “I don’t think you get to do it very often.”

Sarah Polley.

The writers had to turn around their pieces in about two weeks and were working on them nearly up until showtime. Tang changed the “entire metaphor” of theirs, about a couple negotiating their future, based on notes from one of their performers, August Winter, who plays Melvin in Polley’s film. Tang’s “Antarctica” also featured Women Talking’s Michelle McLeod. 

“[The film] doesn’t directly, blatantly answer the question of what’s right or wrong,” Winter said. “I think in having events like this or conversations it leaves room to explore what is true, what do I believe. I think it’s a really cool jumping-off point.” 

That sentiment was echoed by Sheila McCarthy, who took on the monologue that closed the show by Sandra Delgado. McCarthy described the experience of the movie and the art it is now inspiring as “an infinite expression of women talking.” “No pun intended, but this Pandora’s box is opened,” she said. 

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