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Playwright Returns to One-Act Route

“A lot of what I write comes from personal experience--but this came out of nowhere,” said Ara Watson, whose “Bite the Hand” joins Michael Chieffo’s “Winning” in “Women’s War Daily,” a pair of one-acts opening Wednesday at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. “It’s not me,” she added with a laugh, “and it’s not anyone I know.”

For Watson (who was just named playwright-in-residence at the Cincinnati Playhouse), the impetus was reading a book review on prostitution at the turn of the century. “It got me thinking about the empowerment of women: where we’ve been, where we might be going.” Her own “funny, weird” story involves “two small-town prostitutes who, since (World War II) ended have been kicked out of their factory jobs. The younger one is about to get married. But before she leaves, one of her regulars shows up. She wasn’t expecting him. . . .”

This isn’t the first time Watson has gone the one-act route. Earlier this year, her and Mary Gallagher’s “Win/Lose/Draw” (a sharp and sensitive trio of one-acts dealing with bulimia, child abuse and preteen beauty pageants) played at the Skylight. “I like the one-act form,” she said. “Though it is particular--not everyone can work in it. Sometimes I can’t. But I think it’s a way to tell a story in a precise way that’s also very rich. You’re able to have real characters. And there’s a point at the end.”

As for the attention to female characters and issues, “I consider myself a woman writer, not a woman’s writer,” said Watson (who with Gallagher, wrote the Marlo Thomas TV movie “Nobody’s Child”). “Of course, I have a female sensibility--which will connect with a female audience. And I don’t want to exclude men. But men need to let us have our say in theater, film. What we’re interested in is as valid as what men are interested in. Like every writer, I want people to see my work and think about things in a slightly different way than they had before. (This difference) is what we, as women, bring to the theater.”

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Four down-on-their-luck women form a punk rock band in “Angry Housewives,” opening tonight at the Odyssey Theatre. “One is a working single mother,” said cast member Kathy Garrick. “I’m the middle-aged professional, newly divorced. Another character is trapped by her husband at home. The other is a young woman just trying to get from A to B, to find out who she is. So we go from our average everyday looks to the punk stuff: lots of wild corsets, wild wigs and jackets with chains.”

As for the presentational style (A. M. Collins wrote the book, Chad Henry the music): “It’s like those old ‘40s movies, like ‘An American in Paris’: You step right out of the scene and go into song, and then go back to the same pose.” Added the actress, who had a six-month run at the Callboard in 1984 in William Finn’s “In Trousers” (followed by a shorter stint in New York), “This is a very funny show--and very exhaustive. We’re always trying to get the punk energy level up. I don’t know how kids do it.”

Spelunking is the topic of Leonard J. Meenach’s “Chamber of Bells,” which premieres this weekend at the Victory Theatre in Burbank. “It’s about two guys who are cave explorers, spelunkers,” said Judith Royer, who’s staging the work. “We catch them about a mile underground--which creates a wonderful environment in the theater. It’s also a very male play, with a lot of male games and strong male competition.”

In fact, Royer (who’s also a Catholic sister) was a little worried about picking up the reins from the original male director. “But Leonard (Meenach, a spelunker himself) said that was precisely why he wanted me: to find the female dimension. The farther these men go into the cave, the more they have to confront the femaleness in their own personalities, and in nature. And everyone knows that you don’t fool around with a woman--or Mother Nature.”

CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: Philip Kan Gotanda’s comic assault on Asian stereotypes hits the stage (and screen) in “Yankee Dawg You Die,” recently opened at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Sab Shimono and Kelvin Han Yee star.

Said The Times’ Dan Sullivan: “There’s sympathy for both men, plus amusement at the vanity that goes with being an actor, whatever one’s age or ancestry. It’s an engaging script that doesn’t pound its message into the ground.”

From Tom Jacobs in the Daily News: “One waits in vain for the scene where at least one of his characters really lets go. Even without it, however, this is an enjoyable play--brightly written, beautifully acted.”

Said Drama-Logue’s T.H. McCulloh: “The insights are couched in humor and affection, ingredients which also illuminate the performances. They make a statement, and make it in intriguing theatrical strokes.”

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In the Herald-Examiner, Richard Stayton noted: “ ‘Yankee Dawg’ never reaches the promising level of its opening. It walks obediently, modestly amusing, but ever so polite, cautious not to offend anyone.”


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