There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the audience at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, including Goldie Hawn and Patrick Stewart, rose to their feet to applaud nine actors, including Meryl Streep, Angelica Houston, Cherry Jones, and John Cullum, after the Oct. 21 staged reading of Eve Ensler's Necessary Targets.
The play, about an Upper East Side female psychotherapist (portrayed by Streep) who travels to Bosnia to work with a group of rape victims after the war there, benefited the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the only organization in the United States dedicated solely to speaking out on behalf of the refugee woman and children. It also supported the Center for Women War Victims in Zagreb, Croatia, an organization devoted to improving the psychological and physical well being of women, regardless of nationality. The Center is supported in part by the Commission.
Necessary Targets is based on Ensler's own transforming experiences of travelling to Bosnia to help the refugee women heal.
Mary Diaz, director of the Commission, opened the benefit, followed by Program Coordinator of the Center for Women War Victims Rada Bortiz. Boritz, a professor of linguistics and women studies, worked closely with Ensler in Bosnia. The playwright said ...Targets would not have been possible without Boritz. The play opened with Habiba Metikos, a refugee who was an attorney before the war, singing a Bosnian song. Metikos was represented in the play by the character "Biba," played by Annette Hunt. After the reading, Metikos said, "I was so upset all day because everything in the play was so real. I was in that camp."
The play was narrated by Priscilla Shanks, who played "Storm" in Ensler's Floating Rhoda and the Glue Man. John Collum stepped in for Sam Waterston, who was busy shooting Law and Order, to play the small role of Streep's husband. Cullum, currently playing "Cap'n Andy" in Broadway's Show Boat, received the script on Saturday. He admitted, "I don't like following Sam," but also "felt very honored to be a part of that group." The reading marked Streep's first appearance on Broadway in 15 years, and Angelica Huston's first night ever on Broadway. Huston, who played with a slavic accent, the character of "Zlata" a sophisticated former doctor refugee with a tough exterior, said it was a privilege to be able to be a part of the reading. When asked by Playbill On-Line if she would like to return to Broadway, Huston said, "I hope so. I just have to be asked."
Streep and Huston shared powerful moments together onstage, as their characters slowly entered into a deep friendship.
Cherry Jones had flown in on the red eye the night before, to spend her day off from the Los Angeles tour of The Heiress doing the reading. Without having slept, she portrayed the psychotherapist's' ambitious and headstrong colleague, who later softens. Jones said she was thrilled at the opportunity to fulfill her lifelong dream of working with Meryl Streep, and said, "The whole group was such an extraordinary group, and I felt honored to be here."
Jones revealed that her next play is the world premiere of Tina Howe's Pride's Crossing, about a 91-year-old woman who swam the English channel when she was younger. She will begin rehearsals at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in January.
Lois Smith, who recently received a Tony nomination for her work in Buried Child, played a refugee who had lost her son, still living with the remains of a husband who lost his mind. Smith has seen the play emerge, as Ensler had contacted her to do the first reading of the play at the Public Theatre. Smith says, "It's an unusual time. This piece brings together all the women of the piece; the ones who are here in town, and the ones who are in Bosnia. There have been so many things that have come together to produce this -- somehow you don't have a sense of all the facts that go into a play...but this makes you understand what it's really all about."
Of the rest of the cast, Smith said, "They are so powerful, and elegant -- and good."
Calista Flockhart, last on Broadway in the Glass Menagerie, also performed the original reading at the Public. Flockhart played "Nuna" the daughter of "Biba," who was obsessed with America. After Streep poses a digging question to the group of refugees, Nuna answers by asking, "So. . .this is American therapy?"
Flockhart admits, "I thought I'd be intimidated [by the other actresses], but when I met them, that went away., I felt a kindred spirit with them." Flockhart will be performing Natasha in Chekhov's The Three Sisters at the Roundabout later this season.
The part of "Saeda," a young woman who enters severe denial after having dropped her baby in her efforts to escape, was played by Shiva Rose, a young actress who met Ensler in Bosnia. As an Iranian who fled to America, Rose has been interested in healing the Bosnian women for several years. Rose was thrilled to be performing with the cast, and said, "Everytime I would see Meryl cry, it would move me to tears. She is my idol."
Ensler saw Irma St. Paul, most recently in The Rose Tattoo, onstage and asked her to read the part of Azra, the old woman who has lost her entire estate and village. Azra's character is sharp, sad, and funny; when she is asked to share how she feels about the American doctors arrival, she replies, "It just feels like another terrible day."
A party at Sardi's theatrical restaurant afterwards celebrated the triumph of the benefit and the script. An overjoyed Ensler sat at a table with Commission Committee member Goldie Hawn, former Prime Minister of Bosnia Harris Silajdzic, writing partner and husband Ariel Orr Jordan, and various actors and Bosnian friends.
At one point in the party, Metikos came over and sang. Ensler and friends listened, laughed and hummed along. For a moment, Sardi's was transformed into a meeting room in a refugee camp. A feeling of deep connection and camaraderie pervaded the atmosphere.
Of Necessary Target's future, Ensler said, "It's definitely going places," although she declined to give details.
Boritz, who said of Ensler in her opening speech "Eve is able to create community. . . She has the courage to care for others" also pointed out, that after all the horrible things that have been done to women, "Women do know how to survive; there is a genetic wisdom of survival in women."
The Center is accepting donations of computers, as e-mail is one of the few operations modes of communication in the former war zone, according to one of the Commission members.