03 June 2018

A Brief History of Women

As I was in New York City recently, I took the chance to watch an off-Broadway play. I went to a theatre I seem to visit every time I am in New York City, the 59E59 Theatre. I've seen several other plays here in the past, and this time, I saw A Brief History of Women by Alan Ayckbourn.

This play is about a man, well, not really, he was quite unremarkable. Rather, it is the story about the women that surrounded him, from the very beginning, when he was just 17 years old, to the very end, when he was 77 years old. Three women appear in four different stages of his life, which somehow have impact on him. All the action happens in a manor house. This premise creates some sort of gentle comedy with a huge dramatic aspect. Yes there are laughs, but the show was not to simply elicit laughter from the audience. Rather, the play portrays how life can be interesting sometimes, as it takes you through different twists and turns.

There were 6 actors involved in the production: 3 men and 3 women. Only one man (playing Anthony Spates) was consistent all throughout. The rest of the actors had various different roles depending on the time frame. The play had four parts: in 1925, 1945, 1965, and 1985. Anthony would start as a 17-year old servant, going on as a 37-year old teacher, to a 57-year old administrator, and finally as a 77-year old former manager. Each of the three female actors would appear as the woman who was important in the various stages of Anthony's life.

The interesting thing is that these connections Anthony had with these several women weren't actually the focal point in the story. These connections did occur, but they happened by the wayside. In Part 1 for example, yes Anthony had a first kiss with Lady Catherine, but the main thrust of the story was more about the marital conflict between Lady Catherine and Lord Edward. The same can be said in Part 3, where even though Anthony and Gillian share a funny moment, the main drama was more about the fact that Gillian's husband is having an affair with another actress. In short, there's a lot of things that are happening between Anthony and these women, but these are all unmentioned, as the play only portrays four snapshots in different temporal locations of Anthony's life.

Overall I must say this was a fantastic play. All of us enjoyed it, and so I was glad to have seen it while I was there.


  1. Sounds like a John Irving book, for some reason.

    1. Zhu,

      Ah, unfortunately I cannot say I am familiar with John Irving. I've only read one novel, The 158-Pound Marriage, and I am afraid I cannot make a generalisation from one book. :(