|THEY DON’T HATE MEN: Pam Myers-Morgan (left) and Ellen Locy give women a voice with Echo Theatre.
photography by Kris Hundt
What do you want? he asked her.
Want? she repeated.
Yes. Why are you here?
What are you, some kind of dimwit?
Some kind of dimwit?
With a snort and a contemptuous glance, he turned away, and from that day on, her whole personality began to evaporate. If other people spoke to her, she would repeat what they said, but so much in their own tone, it seemed like something reflected in their own minds. She never said anything on her own. After a few weeks, she began to be part of the background, even to her parents. There’s a photograph of her in the HPHS annual, but she looks so much like everybody else, it’s impossible to remember her. No one thought, until much later, to ask what had happened to her, but by then she was only the whisper of their own opinions returning.
The myth of Narcissus and Echo, updated for Facebook.
Leave it to the Greeks, who invented the original one, to mythologize feminine secondariness, silencing, voicelessness, disappearance. The wise ancients found a whole sphere of psychological woundedness, mostly associated with women, discovered its image in the physical phenomenon of reflected sound, and called it Echo.
When I asked Pam Myers-Morgan, one of the founders of Echo Theatre, why the women who formed the women’s theater of Dallas would refer to the myth in their title, she brought up another dimension of the old story—the idea that the original Echo always had to have the last word, but that Juno cursed her by keeping her from ever speaking first. “The name was chosen,” Myers-Morgan says, “to indicate that we are metaphorically restoring Echo’s stolen voice by providing women a place to ‘speak first’ onstage.”
Well, no offense to anybody, but after my riotous interview with Myers-Morgan and Ellen Locy, a producing partner, outside the Starbucks at Casa Linda Plaza, I had a hard time believing that speaking first had ever been a legitimate issue. If I asked a question, it must have been half an hour or so into the interview, and I don’t remember what it was. Locy complimented me in an e-mail afterward for being a good listener. To tell the truth, it was too entertaining to interrupt, even though several older coffee-sippers glanced at us during the story of co-founder Linda Marie Ford’s toddler son running around shouting “Wagina! Wagina!” after one of Echo’s Eve Ensler rehearsals.
Myers-Morgan and Locy hadn’t seen each other in a few months, and they were catching up on things as they talked about their theater, which celebrates its 10th year with this month’s production of the comedy The Ladies of the Camellias, by Lillian Groag, which centers on an imagined meeting of Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse. They ranged over feminism, contemporary politics (note to Republican hopefuls: forget it), and the history of their productions and collaborations.
Myers-Morgan, more of a traditional feminist, embraces the agitprop politics of theater, whereas Locy, who says that she narrowly escaped a voiceless North Dallas fate, thinks in more literary and mythical ways. They both make it clear from the outset that being a women’s theater does not mean they “demonize men.” (“We like ’em,” Locy says.) It means that they produce only plays written by women. Of all the plays produced in any given year nationwide, according to Myers-Morgan, 12 to 17 percent—that’s all—are by women. They’re just trying to even things up. They don’t restrict themselves to any niche (“ball-breaker feminism,” lesbian theater), but they try to include whatever women write about, including—obviously—men. Locy later e-mails me Echo’s mission statement, which includes these qualifications: “It’s not a matter of a woman telling a better story than a man. Or for that matter, telling a story better. It’s simply that she can tell it differently—provide it with another texture, another insight—when she is empowered to speak in her own words.”
Well, let me get out of the way, then, and let Myers-Morgan and Locy speak in their own words. They’re talking about how they found Amy Freed’s Freedomland, which (as I discover on their website) I once described as “the funniest, most incisively intelligent play that’s been onstage in Dallas for quite awhile.”
An outdoor table, mid-morning. myers-morgan and locy talk to me while my pen hovers futilely over a yellow legal pad. I glance anxiously at my digital voice recorder. The conversation goes very fast. PMM: Freedomland! I read that script and could. Not. Stand it.
EL: It was typical—[rest of remark unintelligible as Myers-Morgan talks over it]
PMM: Part of doing Echo Reads—and I said this to you—
EL: Yeah, yeah.
PMM: —was doing plays that I didn’t like, and I don’t like dysfunctional-family plays.
EL: And I love ’em.
PMM: So I had Freedomland on my desk. And I read it and just couldn’t stand it, but I put it on the stack, because that’s the point, because I don’t know everything. So Ellen said, “I really love this play.”
EL: I called Pam and said, “Oh, I love this play.” She said, “Oh, God, the people are so unlikable.” And I said, “But they’re so familiar.” I said, “But this is my sister.”
PMM: So she programmed it as our Christmas play, because she always programs [Locy cackles in anticipation] some horrible family thing for the holidays. We did a reading of that play in the Bath House, and at intermission, one of our lovely little audience members came up and said, “Could you please ask the audience to stop laughing so much? I can’t hear the play.” I said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I really can’t do that.” And I had been laughing so hard I thought I was going to wet my pants. Vicki Cheatwood came up to me at intermission and said [a flat-voiced, Oklahoma-serious Vicki Cheatwood imitation], “If you don’t do this play, you don’t deserve to be a theater.”
There’s something about listening to the recorder, my mechanized Echo, that seems curiously fitting. I feel myself receding, fading. Now they’re talking about Echo’s most successful play ever, last spring’s String of Pearls, which Myers-Morgan wanted to produce.
PMM: I just read it and said, “Oh I love this play. Y’all read it.” And they said—
EL: I said, “Are you kidding me?”
PMM: Because it was by that author that wrote that horrible play called [pause for effect] The Smell of the Kill.
EL: Michele Lowe!
PMM: Oh. My. God. Somebody handed me this play—it went to Broadway—and I read this play and I said, “Are you kidding me?” This is a play about these three couples who get together, and the women go in the kitchen to complain about how awful their men are? And then at the end, they lock them in a freezer in the basement and kill them while wearing skimpy underwear, the women! So it’s everything you hate—
EL: It’s awful!
PMM: —about women’s theater.
EL: Women good, men bad—
PMM: So when I gave Ellen the script, she said, “You know it’s by that woman who wrote that play you hate.” I said, “What? The Smell of the Kill?” I didn’t even have to ask her.
Didn’t even have to ask her.
The Ladies of the Camellias runs from September 14 to October 6 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Dr. 214-904-0500. www.echotheatre.org.