Over the weekend, Stagefemmes performed a staged reading of The Eliza Script by Alexa Derman, which was successful due to the small cast’s ability to bring the play to life through their expressiveness. Derman — playwright and finalist for numerous awards including the Starr Reading Series, Pegasus PlayLab and other organizations — worked alongside Stagefemmes, and was present at the reading for a brief Q&A directly following the performance.
The Eliza Script follows a queer female scientist named Lorrie, played by Alexis Mladineo ’24. Her life’s work is to build an intelligent robot, LI-9, played by Grace Donnelly ’25, which Lorrie intended to represent a feminist critique of the male gaze. Much of the play explores the ethical implications of building a conscious robot, particularly one designed to appear female, and using it for household tasks. By humanizing a machine, the play attempts to find the line between artistic critique and exploitation of the subject. The script utilizes this irony to force the audience to consider the limitations of heteropatriarchal scientific development, and the difficulties of navigating it as a woman in STEM.
The cast was composed of five actors and a narrator. While there was no movement on stage, the actors portrayed each character beautifully, with emotional monologues spoken directly to the audience and strong expressions. Donnelly did a wonderful job portraying a character who uses the same heavily repeated phrases, while still managing to create a sense of humanity and draw empathy from the audience. Another character who made the show great was Peter, an oblivious male figure played by Max Farkhat ’22, who added a subtle but comical element to the production.
The limitation of simply reading Derman’s script was more apparent in some scenes than others, particularly in moments where Lorrie is working on LI-9. The narration conveyed these scenes as gentle and intimate, though with both actors standing and looking at the audience rather than interacting with each other, it came off as more impersonal.
At the Q&A session following the reading, Derman discussed the ideas behind this play and some of her other projects. She talked about how her work as a playwright comes from a queer and feminist perspective, and that technology has been a major inspiration given how much of an impact the internet had on her (and the rest of her generation’s) development. Additionally, Derman discussed another play she wrote, Girlish, which attempts to bring the internet onto the stage. Her work illustrates that technology can provide a lens into the human psyche, the physical manifestation of society’s values.
Overall, the production was fun and engaging, but more importantly was a clever critique of gender roles in all different kinds of relationships — romantic, platonic and professional.