Darrah Cloud’s play, The Stick Wife, premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1987. It has subsequently received over 100 productions. The Writer interviews her here.
Q: What was the impetus for writing The Stick Wife?
I read an article in the New York Times Magazine about the bomber of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in 1963, a deed that killed four little girls and something I remembered being shocked by as a child. The article was about him, but at the very end of it, Howell Raines, the author, mentioned the fact that he had recently died in jail never knowing it was his wife who had been informing on him to the FBI and was the primary reason he’d been convicted. I had to write that play. What kind of marriage must that have been?
Q: How did you find the main character?
The main character is Jessie, the wife of the bomber. I “found” her by thinking about all the women I’d watched as a child pretending either to not know something so that their husbands would feel superior, or saying one thing and doing quite another, also to escape male scrutiny. It was as if the women in my neighborhood lives in a separate reality than the men did, and I wanted to capture that idea while in turn writing a woman who was an unlikely hero, and an unsung one. I wrote my mother, her friends, our neighbors.
Q: What did you do when the going got rough?
Writing the play was never rough. To be able to write is a privilege and a joy even when the topic is as sad as the one here. The going got rough whenever I got a bad review. I stopped reading reviews early on in my career, but it always gets to me nevertheless. Once you’ve had a whole lot of productions of one play, a bad review becomes something of a surprise and a reflection more on the psychology of the reviewer than anything else. I once received a bad review from a critic for the Boston Globe who, upon seeing the play again a few years later at another theatre, recanted his first review and publicly apologized to me. I did nothing to attain that except persevere. I think alternate points-of-view are often hard for critics to understand when they are so used to a white male point-of-view governing a story. It has taken a long time for them to warm up to the way people of color and women see things, which can be very different from the way a white man might. Rather than feeling the excitement of exploring new territory, they have tended to fear it. But that’s changing.
Q: Is that Lois Smith on the cover of your play?
Yup. She was amazing.