Women on Fire: The Play

Women on Fire Playbill

Photo: TheatreGold

“WOMEN ON FIRE” (Little Theatre) Comic/dramatic monologues. Irene O’Garden. 1-12 females.“A dozen women with plenty to say…Bewitching…astounding… heartbreaking,” –N Y Times. This evening of emotionally-charged women’s monologues starred Judith Ivey, and was twice extended Off-Broadway, where it played to sold-out houses. While it was nominated for a Lortel Award for Best Solo Show, it has successfully been performed by larger casts.

From ad exec to midwest Mom to caregiver to construction worker, each character is on fire in her own way—with passion, fear, self-discovery, even shopping! Many good roles for mature actresses. Exploring a breadth of classic and contemporary women’s issues with humor and wisdom, “Women On Fire is about indomitable spirit, and the ways that storytelling serves that spirit. It’s heartwarming, riveting drama”—NY Theatre.com. “Fresh, spirited phrasing…plumbing the secret depths of ordinary women.”—Backstage. “Hot pick”–NY Newsday, “Notable”—USA Today. Wall Street Journal/Zagat Theater Survey Highest Rating (97% audience satisfaction.)

To book Judith Ivey in “Women On Fire,” please contact Washington Square Arts. To buy a copy of the script, please contact Samuel French, Inc.

Lyrical. Funny. Passionate. Over Forty. Powerful.

POWERFUL SHOW: Women On Fire is a vibrant set of monologues revealing women’s private emotions within contemporary culture. There’s a dearth of good material for women over forty, both for audience members and actresses. Women On Fire eloquently fills that need.

POWERFUL WOMEN: Two-time Tony Award winning actress Judith Ivey; The Cherry Lane Theatre Artistic Director Angelina Fiordellisi, Director Mary B. Robinson (Head of the Directing Program at NYU), Harper author Irene O’Garden brought Women On Fire to The Cherry Lane Theatre for a limited run.

POWERFUL ROLES: A New York ad exec, an African-American construction worker, an Irish caregiver. More than 12 characters, each on fire in her own way. With fear. Justice. Motherhood. Even shopping.

For further information, please contact Irene O’Garden.

Judith Ivey

Judith Ivey has been performing on stage, film and television professionally for over twenty five years. While her just-released film, What Alice Found, won a special award at Sundance (Special Prize for Emotional Truth), and instantly sold out at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, and while you may catch her as Grace’s Mom on Will and Grace, Ms. Ivey has graced Broadway stages since 1979 when she moved to New York City with productions such as Bedroom Farce and Piaf. Ms. Ivey won her first Tony award in 1983 for Best Actress in a Featured Role as Josie in Pam Gem’s British import, Steaming. Her second Tony came in 1985 as Best Featured Actress in David Rabe’s acclaimed Hurlyburly with William Hurt, Christopher Walken, Sigourney Weaver and Jerry Stiller. She has performed at the Public Theatre, The Manhattan Theatre Club and many other Off-Broadway houses as well. Ms. Ivey has gone on to play leading roles in Blithe Spirit with Richard Chamberlain and Geraldine Fitzgerald, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard with Jason Robards (Tony nomination for Best Actress), Precious Sons with Ed Harris, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and A Fair Country by John Robin Baitz at Lincoln Center. She also starred on Broadway in Voices in the Dark by John Pielmeier and in the recent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.

Judith’s film career of more than 30 major features includes performances in The Lonely Guy with Steve Martin; The Woman in Red with Gene Wilder; Harry and Son with Paul Newman; Sister, Sister with Jennifer Jason Leigh; In Country with Bruce Willis; The Devil’s Advocate with Al Pacino; Mystery, Alaska with Burt Reynolds and Washington Square with Albert Finney. Television credits include the final season of Designing Women on CBS,Down Home on NBC, Buddies on ABC, The Five Mrs. Buchanans on CBS, three Hallmark Hall of Fame television movies and many guest spots on hour-long dramas on all the major networks.

Ms. Ivey resides in New York City with her husband Tim Braine, a television and film producer, her daughter, Maggie and son, Tom.

Production History

Judith Ivey in “Women on Fire” at the Cherry Lane Theater.

“Women On Fire” began as a series of performance poems Irene O’Garden wrote and read regularly throughout the Hudson Valley. She then performed fifteen of them for Octoberfest 2000 at Ensemble Studio Theatre. “Women on Fire” had its premiere production in 2001 at The University of Florida at Gainesville as a featured part of Women’s History Month. Fifteen actresses performed. “Women On Fire” has also enjoyed excellent reviews and recurring productions in Riverhead and Southampton, Long Island, courtesy of the Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives Production Company.

In summer of 2001, Irene sent the script to Judith Ivey. That September, Judith taught a week-long Master class at the University of Michigan, and read several characters to a warmly-responding public. In March 2002, Judith conducted another week-long Master class at SUNY, Fredonia. She performed a cutting of the show for the public at the beautifully restored Opera House there. Later that summer, Judith played selections from “Women On Fire” to packed houses at Actor’s Theatre of Nantucket. Cherry Lane Theatre Artistic Director Angelina Fiordellisi then chose the play for two weeks of performances between October 20 and November 1, 2003. Director Mary B. Robinson (who also heads the Directing Program at NYU) directed.

Judith Ivey in Women on Fire
Judith Ivey

Mary B. Robinson

Mary B. Robinson has directed over fifty productions of both classics and new plays Off-Broadway and in regional theatre. In New York she has directed “String Fever” by Jacqueline Reingold at Ensemble Studio Theatre; “Three Viewings” by Jeffrey Hatcher at Manhattan Theatre Club; “Lemon Sky” by Lanford Wilson (for which she received a Drama Desk Nomination) and “Moonchildren” by Mic hael Weller, both at Second Stage; A Shayna Maidel by Barbara Lebow at Westside Arts; Copperhead by Eric Brogger at the WPA and “Twelfth Night” at Theatre for a New Audience.

Regionally she has worked at Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, South Coast Rep, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Hartford Stage (where she was Associate Artistic Director) and Philadelphia Drama Guild (where she was Artistic Director). She was the first recipient of the TCG Alan Schneider Directing Award in 1987. Currently she heads the directing program at Playwright’s Horizon’s Theatre School at NYU, and teaches in the Graduate Program at Brooklyn College.


New York Times

A Dozen Women With Plenty to Say, and Only One to Portray Them

Review in The New York Times by ANITA GATES

Several mothers and daughters turn up in “Women on Fire,” Judith Ivey’s new, bewitching one-woman show, which opened last night at the Cherry Lane Theater.

Ms. Ivey plays 12 characters, including Eileen, a middle-aged Boston-Irish woman with strong feelings about her dying mother. “Where’s the commandment on honoring your children?” she asks the priest in the confessional. Eileen says her mother squashed her confidence, broke her spirit and “made me unfit for any man, so I’d have to tend her in her old age.”

There’s Lydia, another dying, manipulative mother who’s busy trying to rationalize her behavior. “I only know in every biography of every great writer I ever read, you never hear of any loving upbringing,” she says. So really, she decides, her author daughter owes her success to Lydia’s bad mothering.

Then there’s Fern, a Midwestern housewife who enjoys baking because the ingredients don’t get involved in conflicts with one another or talk back to her. Fern has a daughter who lives in New York and works in publishing, and they don’t see each other much. Fern recently crocheted her daughter a bathroom-tissue cover, and it was not graciously received. “She spends half the phone call jumping on me about taste,” Fern recalls. “I wanna say: `You’re a fine one to talk about taste. You don’t even eat.’ ”

It’s no surprise that the remarkable Ms. Ivey, 52, can bounce from character to character, age to age, and self-deception to enlightenment and back again. She has been astounding stage audiences for two decades now, since her Tony Award-winning performance as a frequently naked Cockney heroine in “Steaming” in 1982. Her finest Broadway role was as a vulnerable drug user in “Hurlyburly” two years later, and it won her a second Tony. She was also unforgettable singing Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind,” a bittersweet bright spot in the generally disappointing 2001 revival of “Follies.”

What’s surprising is how personal and custom made “Women on Fire” feels, considering that it was written by someone else. Irene O’Garden is the playwright, and these characters represent only about half of those she created for “Women on Fire,” which she has performed herself elsewhere.

Ms. O’Garden’s work is mostly about insight and sometimes the avoidance of it, and at times, the recognition factor can be frighteningly specific. The most heartbreaking characters, oddly, are the most superficial women. Clover, an ad executive whose motto is “When you buy what I sell, you accept me; when I buy what you sell, I’m a sucker,” has an epiphany in a dream about rows of children being mowed down by a chain saw.

“It’s these little kids, their trust, their humanity, we pulp it, blow our nose in it, throw it away,” she says, and then reveals what she’s planning to do about that realization.

Miriam, a Westchester County clotheshorse, is explaining to an unseen younger woman just how therapeutic shopping can be, offering approval, anonymity and promises of happiness. She also explains how to approach a mall binge, beginning with one of the anchor stores like Sears or J. C. Penney. “Of course their merchandise offends me now,” she says, “but that’s why I go, to remind myself how far I’ve come.”

Other women reflect on abortions, vegetable gardens, religious faith, rejection slips, dancing for joy (literally), construction work and the inevitability of hurting others.

This isn’t quite a tour de force for Ms. Ivey. It’s an appropriately modest production in reach as well as logistics, and it belongs in an intimate theater like the Cherry Lane. The play, directed with great skill and a welcome briskness by Mary B. Robinson, continues through Dec. 21.


By Irene O’Garden; directed by Mary B. Robinson; sets and costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by Pat Dignan; sound by Bart Fasbender; props, Faye Armon; company manager, David Batan; general manager, Elliot Fox; director of artistic development, Pamela Perrell; production manager, Chime Serra; production stage manager, Misha Siegel-Rivers. Presented by the Cherry Lane Theater, Angelina Fiordellisi, artistic director. At 38 Commerce Street, West Village.

WITH: Judith Ivey (Trude, Fern, Eileen and others).

NY Theatre

by Martin Denton · November 17, 2003

I’ve made it a point to see as much of Judith Ivey’s theatre work as possible—she’s indisputably one of our most accomplished and reliable stage actors. Well, I’ve never seen her to better advantage than in Women on Fire. This superb one-woman show, beautifully written by Irene O’Garden and effectively directed by Mary B. Robinson, is nothing short of tour de force—a bravura showcase of Ivey’s exceptional talent and magnetism. Fans of great acting, and fans of humanity, should not miss this show.

In Women on Fire, Ivey portrays a dozen different women in separate vignettes, each about seven or eight minutes long. That’s it. There’s no pretense of a framing device, no concern for the artifice of the format, not even much that links the characters thematically save authentic native intelligence and a real passion for living. Nevertheless, Ivey brings all twelve of these ladies to life with such compassion and in such vivid detail that we need nothing else: Women on Fire is about indomitable spirit, and the ways that storytelling serves that spirit. It’s riveting, heart-warming drama.

How shall I convey these extraordinary portraits to you? Let me introduce you to some of these women, the ones who resonated the most with me. There’s Lydia, a hard-edged Southern belle who makes no apologies for being difficult, telling us with only a hint of a wink that she lived as she did to provide her writer-son with sufficient material for his art. There’s Zatz, a frustrated unpublished author who stages a mini one-woman protest at a Borders book store (spray painting the exposed covers and spines of books; they’re just objects, she reminds us, while she’s an actual person). And there’s Miriam, a Westchester or Long Island matron who gives her niece a lesson on the fine art of shopping, demonstrating how a little self-contained self-indulgence can go a long way.

Ivey also conjures Kalisha, an African American construction worker who took over that unlikely job after her lazy husband.

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