Saturday, November 21, 2015

Anton in Show Business: Who is Jane Martin?

 Nominally (that is, by name), Jane Martin is an American playwright of more than a dozen full-length plays, plus numerous shorter plays since 1982. Four of these plays have been honored by the American Theatre Critics Association (including Anton in Show Business), and one (Keely and Du) was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

 But there are no photos of Jane Martin, no interviews, no public appearances. Jane Martin has never openly attended a rehearsal or a premiere of any of her plays. Her identity has never been revealed, even to actors in her plays. Even the “her” designation is open to question.

 The person who speaks for Martin is the director of all but one of the first productions of Martin’s plays (as well as the producer of most): Jon Jory. Jory was the legendary head of the Actors Theatre of Louisville since 1969, and began the Humana Festival of New American Plays there in 1976. It became the most powerful venue for productions of new plays in America.

 All of Jane Martin’s produced plays between 1982 and 2000 (including 10 full lengths and 6 one-acts) were first staged at the Humana Festival by Jory. In that period, Humana produced Martin more often than any other playwright.

 It was long suspected that Jory is Martin, but the premiere of Anton in Show Business at the Humana Festival in 2000—the year that Jory left Louisville for a teaching position at the University of Washington in Seattle—seemed to settle it for most observers.

 “Mr. Jory is widely thought to be Jane Martin,” wrote New York Times critic Bruce Weber in his review of that year’s festival, “or at least the chairman of a Jane Martin committee.”

 In the Winter 2014 issue of the Journal of American Drama and Theatre. Jeffrey Ullom analyzed the evidence in detail, in his article “The Playwright as Publicity: Reexamining Jane Martin and the Legacy of the Humana Festival.”

 There have been other names offered as the playwright who uses Jane Martin as a pseudonym. Ullom looks at two: playwright Beth Henley and former literary manager of the Actors Theatre Michael Bigelow Dixon. Though there are tantalizing threads of evidence for each, Ullom soon settles on Jory. (He accepts the possibility of Jory’s collaborations with others, particularly his wife, Marcia Dixcy Jory, also a playwright.)

 He notes that Jory was already a playwright, but that he stopped writing for production at about the same time as Martin began. Jory had used a pseudonym before, writing as a drama critic while acting in theatre in college, to the point of reviewing his own performances. A Louisville newspaper reporter even found that Jory’s freelance income greatly increased in the years that Martin was being widely produced, though his freelance activity didn’t.

 But among the strongest indications was this play, Anton in Show Business. In general it demonstrates a wide knowledge of American theatre that Jory possesses. A number of specific critiques made by characters in the play have also been made by Jory.

 For example, Holly describes directors such as the one she just fired: “They have these pushy little egos but hardly any usable information, which makes them very sad and time-consuming.”

 Jory, no stranger to firing directors, complained that theatre directors were inadequately prepared, and wrote an article for American Theatre magazine titled “Why Directors Can’t Direct.”

 Ullom notes that the conviction that Jory is “Martin” has strengthened since 2000, as “the location of Martin’s debuts have followed Jory around the country.”

 Ullom finds this masquerade troubling in a number of ways. As the title of his article indicates, the “mystery” of Jane Martin has been a dependable boost to publicity of Martin’s plays, suggesting more cynicism than irony.

 He also noted Jory’s role in selecting Martin’s plays out of the many vying for production in the Humana Festival, arguably the most important showcase for new plays in America. “With Jory selecting himself under the guise of a Southern female playwright, that objectivity comes into question.”

 This pseudonym also may have misrepresented the number of women playwrights the Humana Festival was actually producing, Ullom suggests. Other questions arise if a male playwright is representing himself as a female playwright, particularly as author of a play that criticizes the disproportionately low number of women actors, directors and by implication, playwrights in American theatre.

“If Jory is Jane Martin, how does this fact affect Actors Theatre of Louisville’s reputation as a home for women playwrights?” Ullom writes. “On numerous occasions, Actors Theatre employees have stressed the institution’s dedication to supporting female playwrights, adding to the theatre’s legacy. However, with the assumption that Jory is Martin, this achievement becomes tainted. For Jory and his company to have celebrated Jane Martin’s inclusion in any list of female writers is disingenuous at best and a lie at its worst.”

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