Jessica Dickey may have never been on a women’s retreat, but she does believe in the power of travel to inspire new ideas. Around the time that Weathervane Productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory commissioned the playwright-performer to write a new ensemble-focused play, she was traveling around Europe and found herself increasingly drawn to Medieval art and spaces. Unexpectedly, she also became fascinated by female mystics. Women like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard von Bingen, who, against the odds and despite the risks, had found ways to step into more truthful versions of themselves.
“I realized that I was searching for a sense that I was inherently sovereign. That I had the right to make choices for my life and that my life was my own,” explains Dickey. “I was in the process of claiming my life as my own, and out of that chaos and vulnerability… The Convent was born.”
The Convent, now in its world-premiere run at A.R.T/New York with direction by Daniel Talbott, is a play about a group of women who go on a retreat to live like nuns in the Middle Ages. This is no ordinary retreat. In the tranquil French countryside, they are baptized with ’80s pop, female mysticism, hallucinogens, and sex. A comedy about desire, devotion, and the mystery of intrinsic divinity, each of the characters in The Convent is trying to step into a more truthful version of themselves.
What the play is wrestling with, explains Dickey, is this question of sovereignty. “Really grabbing a hold of your life and, while fully taking responsibility for the costs, saying: ‘What do I need and what do I need to do now to step into my wider self?’” she says.
“Women are socialized very strongly to live in their roles,” continues Dickey. “Going into a retreat is a chance to isolate yourself from those roles to investigate your life on its own terms without necessarily any of the contracts you’ve made so far—being a partner, a parent, a daughter, or a friend.”
With The Convent, Dickey is not just exploring what it means to take control of one’s life, but specifically, what that might look like for women. What does it mean for notions of maternity and motherhood.
“The play, in this wacky, messy, jagged-edged way, zings that [idea] around between this group of women and tries to land on the other side.”
The Convent continues through February 17. The cast is made up of Amy Berryman, Annabel Capper, Margaret Odette, Brittany Anikka Liu, Lisa Ramirez, Samantha Soule, and Wendy vanden Heuvel. The production is presented Off-Broadway by Weathervane Productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory, in association with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.