Shows rarely get second chances in the theater. It's hard enough to synchronize participants' busy lives for one set of rehearsals and performances; doing it twice is nearly impossible if something goes wrong the first time.
Nevertheless, two months after the Women's Theatre Festival had to cancel its August production of the early feminist play Miss Lulu Bett, its second chance arrives next week in two staged readings at Walltown Children's Theatre (Sunday, Oct. 1, 3 p.m.) and Imurj (Wednesday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m.).
"Finally, this hardworking cast has the chance to demonstrate its prowess in a public setting," says Ashley Popio, the festival's artistic director. Proceeds from the benefit performances (the suggested donation is five dollars) will help pay amends to Walltown, which lost money when the initial production was canceled.
Lori Mahl will direct the dramatic comedy, the first Pulitzer-winning drama written by a woman. Novelist Zona Gale adapted her own best-seller into a Broadway play in 1920. Mahl says Gale "got a lot of pushback" when her script dared to seek a happy ending for an unmarried thirty-four-year-old woman. At the start, the title character cleans and cooks in her sister's household, with few options despite her quick wits. But Lulu's fortunes change, and change again, as several men enter and exit her life.
When the play debuted, four months after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which secured women's right to vote, Gale's play documented a changing time, one in which "a woman is trying to find her own voice and make her own choices," Mahl says. Audiences in Durham and Raleigh finally get to hear that voice when Sierra Smith plays the title character this week.