Dubbed a "master in small-town realism" by the entertainment-industry
magazine Variety, playwright Claudia Allen has been on
campus this fall teaching her craft as a part-time humanities
lecturer, advising students that "your life experience is what
makes your stories unique because nobody else has your life."
a resident playwright at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, has
been practicing what she preaches. Her sense of humor as well
as themes taken from her own life repeatedly show up in her writing.
Her new play, Xena Live!, is her latest contribution to
Chicago's campy late-night theater offerings. A theatrical spoof
on the action-packed TV show Xena, Warrior Princess, Allen's
version is performed at Chicago's About Face Theater and features
a man in drag as Xena. It highlights the lesbian subtexts in the
TV show. Because some of her plays are "rather sedate and set
in the living room," Allen finds it exciting to incorporate fight
scenes into Xena Live!: warriors combat giant beetles in
areas like Ravens' Wood, named for the beetle-infested Chicago
community of Ravenswood, where Allen lives. Allen has also written
and produced several other parodies, such as Gays of Our Lives
and A Gay Christmas Carol.
first discovered her love of playwriting during her college years
at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned both
a bachelor's and a master's degree in English. There, Allen distinguished
herself from classmates who were writing dormitory dramas by writing
about a middle-aged woman dealing with a deteriorating and aging
mother. For Allen, the theme of aging became a distinctive mark
that would resurface in many of her 18 plays. Winter, the
latest of six of her plays to have been produced by Victory Gardens,
ran for more than a month this past summer. Directed by Sandy
Shinner, the play told the story of a young couple, played by
Tony Award-winner Julie Harris and Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum,
reunited in their old age.
always liked writing about older people because they've lived,"
says the 44-year-old Allen, noting that she spent a lot of her
childhood in small-town Michigan "sitting on porches talking with
work on a screenplay based on the stage version of Winter,
Allen is also readying for a May production at Victory Gardens
of her newest play, Cahoots, a madcap comedy starring Sharon
Gless, of TV's Cagney and Lacey. --E.C.