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Caryl Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’ Opens at UCSB

Starting this Friday and running through Saturday, Nov. 16, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance will present a new production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, directed by Anne Torsiglieri and starring Dani Hernandez and Mariah Goolsby, with a supporting cast of talented students.

The main character of Top Girls — whether you view her as the heroine is dependent on a number of personal biases that we have not the time or space to get into here — is a successful businesswoman named "Marlene." Marlene has made herself into a success in the masculine world of business by suppressing her gender and her individuality. She has avoided any permanent commitments such as marriage and parenthood — and when she relaxed her vigilance to the point of conceiving and giving birth to an illegitimate child, she promptly passed off the baby into the care of her sister, providing only financial support thereafter.

A successful career was her only goal, and she has achieved it with rather spectacular completeness. She has not, however, made herself happy, or content, or emotionally comfortable — I guess you would have to say "naturally," since if everything were peachy with her, then there wouldn't be much of a drama, would there?

Marlene has reached a point in her career where, if she cannot let down her guard completely, she can at least take a deep breath or two, and a glance or two over her shoulder to see how far she has gotten herself. The immediate occasion is a dinner celebrating her promotion to a height hitherto only scaled by men.

Top Girls is sensationally good theater — the first scene, in which Marlene confronts and interviews a number of historically successful women, is a tour de force of the highest order — and yet, the questions raised by Churchill's play are of much wider application than are suggested by Marlene's crisis. After all, it's not just business. Any woman who aspires to be something other than a wife-and-mother — be it CEO of General Motors, a senator from Nebraska, a novelist or painter or composer, a first-grade teacher, a television repair person or a police officer — is taking on a role cast for someone else. She must sacrifice much of the individual personality she has developed; she must adopt the generic.

Men don't face anything like this. Unless a man decides to be a nurse or a house cleaner, he is rarely required to change the gender of most of his attitudes.

One thing: Top Girls is advertised as being "set in the early years of the Thatcher government," as if Churchill wrote an historical play. She did not. Top Girls took the English stage in 1982, the third of Margaret Thatcher's 11 years as prime minister of the United Kingdom. As far as the majority of the issues it raises are concerned, Top Girls is set "in the present day."

Top Girls will be performed at 8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 and Nov. 12-16 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and Nov. 16 in the UCSB Performing Arts Theater. Tickets are $17 for general admission, $13 for students, seniors, and UCSB faculty-staff-alumni. They are available by phone at 805.893.7221 and online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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