Top Girls (Review)
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Every year, when the time comes for me to teach Caryl Churchill's socialist-feminist drama Top Girls to my senior undergraduates, I wonder how they will react. A runaway success when first produced at the Royal Court in 1982 (and winner of an Obie Award that same year), the play now reads, and risks playing, as politically dated. Quite apart from its references to the rise of Thatcherism and to Joyce's technologically impoverished household (which lacks even a landline!), Top Girls is saturated with a brand of strident feminism that many current thinkers, feminist and not, dismiss as past its prime. I'm not talking here about Marlene's notoriously aggressive treatment of other women, which is key to Churchill's own feminist critique in the play; rather, I'm talking about the fact that the play unabashedly calls itself feminist in the first place, demanding—by staging—a place at the table for women of all ages, backgrounds, and skill sets. It is past the new millennium now and contemporary pop-culture politics likes to imagine that we're "over" talking about women's equal rights. How, then, does a company stage this play today and not fall into the rut of retrograde preaching? What does it take to give Top Girls the contemporary afterlife it so richly deserves?