Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance presents the final virtual theatrical performance of the semester, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Directed by M.F.A. candidate Paul Christopher, Top Girls will be presented via Zoom November 12, 13, and 14 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are free to attend. Registration is required and limited to 300 attendees each night.

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A British playwright whose works have been produced internationally, Churchill writes with an expansive and critical perspective of modern life, influenced keenly by playwrights such as Bertolt Brecht in her early works (including Top Girls which premiered in 1982) and later, by Antonin Artaud and other surrealist artists. Her epic-like stories frequently explore feminist questions, power inequalities, and capitalism. Top Girls is no exception. Its characters include modern British sisters Marlene and Joyce as well as historical figures Lady Nijo (a 12th-century Japanese concubine), English travel writer Isabella Bird, and Pope Joan, among others. As the play opens, Marlene has been promoted to an executive position with the Top Girls hiring agency. As the play unfolds, Churchill advances an analysis of the sacrifices that Marlene made along the way, and how those sacrifices impacted her family and others. As the historical figures gather together at a dreamlike dinner in celebration of Marlene’s promotion, Churchill deftly connects Marlene’s modern circumstances to those of women across time and cultures.

Churchill’s works are as well-known in the U.S. as her U.K. contemporaries Tom Stoppard or Harold Pinter. Her first produced play, Downstairs, premiered in 1958, and her most recent new work premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in September 2019, a cycle of four plays entitled Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. The Evening Standard’s Jessie Thompson wrote that the plays were “a thrilling reminder of why she’s our greatest living playwright… Churchill spans everything from poetry to surrealism to tell four tales that feel both urgent to our current moment and like timeless, amber-cast fairytales.”

Top Girls remains one of Churchill’s most popular plays in the U.S. For its U.S. premiere, Churchill won her second Obie Award for playwriting was runner-up for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an award she would win the following year for her play Fen. In 2001, she received the Obie Award for Sustained Achievement, and in 2010, she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Top Girls has been made available at no cost due to the generosity of donors who regularly support the School of Theatre and Dance. Please consider making a gift to help support future programs. 

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