For years, the rise and empowerment of women has been gradual but fierce! This empowerment is reflected on stage through the many female characters we find in theatre.
We’ve compiled a list of over 30 plays with some of the strongest leading female characters. Some of these women are comforting mothers and daughters, while others are rebellious forces for nature, but all of these characters reveal the moments of beauty, power, and strength that come with womanhood. Grab a copy and join these women as they explore themselves, the world around them, and the many challenges that women have faced throughout history. Check out Part 1 below! For Part 2, click here.
The Village Bike by Penelope Skinner
Becky is pregnant—and friskier than ever. But she can’t seem to get the attention of her husband, who is preoccupied with preparing for the baby’s months-away arrival. So Becky takes matters into her own hands and sets out on an adventure that starts with the purchase of a used bike from a man in town and takes her further than she ever expected she’d go. A provocative and darkly comic look at fantasy and desire, this play sends Becky speeding downhill towards reckless abandon. 3m, 3f
Edward Albee’s Occupant by Edward Albee
Unapologetically flamboyant, New York sculptor Louise Nevelson’s life was one marked by intrepid artistic triumphs as well as deep inner turmoil. Now both her public accomplishments and private emotional conflicts are thoroughly examined by an unnamed interviewer who questions the posthumous Nevelson with an unabashed scrutiny. From her unique vantage point beyond the grave, Nevelson answers his questions with a clarity born of the distance provided by death. The result is a touching, humorous, and honest tribute to a woman who was a pioneer for free-thinking females everywhere, but also stood strongly on her own as one of the 20th century’s greatest artistic minds. 1m, 1f
Red Hot Patriot by Margaret Engel, Allison Engel
The story of the unsinkable Molly Ivins, the famously brassy newspaper columnist and best-selling author. A true Texas original, Ivins was a sharp-tongued wit who skewered the political establishment and the “good ol’ boys” with her unforgettable humor and wisdom. Written by twin sisters, themselves longtime journalists, the play celebrates Ivins’ courage and tenacity – even when a complacent America wasn’t listening. 1f
The City of Conversation by Anthony Giardina
In this play spanning 30 years and six presidential administrations, Hester Ferris throws Georgetown dinner parties that can change the course of Washington’s politics. But when her beloved son suddenly turns up with an ambitious Reaganite girlfriend and a shocking new conservative world view, Hester must choose between preserving her family and defending the causes she’s spent her whole life fighting for. 4m, 4f, 1boy(s)
Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl
Art imitates Life. Life imitates Art. When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them offstage. Stage Kiss captures Sarah Ruhl’s singular voice. It is a charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss—or when actors share a real one. 4m, 3f
Cornelia by Mark V. Olsen
From the co-creator of the hit HBO series ‘Big Love’ comes an epic slice of history centering on 1970s Alabama politics. Beautiful, divorced beauty queen Cornelia Folsom is a force of nature who works her way into the heart of Governor George Wallace. Together they plan to take over the state and then the White House until an assassination attempt halts his presidential campaign. But no obstacle is too great for Cornelia to overcome, as she secretly harbors her own political ambitions amidst a hostile campaign staff, her rarely sober mother, and Southern shenanigans in this sweeping, provocative tale of sex, power, and bare-knuckled American politics. 2m, 3f
Chasing Manet by Tina Howe
In this comedy, a rebellious painter from a distinguished family in Boston and an ebullient Jewish woman with a huge adoring family form an unlikely bond. Inside the confining walls of Mount Airy Nursing Home, the two plot an escape to Paris aboard the QE2. But can they possibly pull it off amidst the chaos of their surroundings? The tension and comedy grow as they struggle to take wing for the last time. 3m, 4f
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
Four aspiring young novelists sign up for private writing classes with Leonard, an international literary figure. Under his recklessly brilliant and unorthodox instruction, some thrive and others flounder, alliances are made and broken, sex is used as a weapon and hearts are unmoored. The wordplay is not the only thing that turns vicious as innocence collides with experience in this biting Broadway comedy. 3m, 2f
Bulrusher by Eisa Davis
In 1955, in the redwood country north of San Francisco, a multiracial girl grows up in a predominantly white town whose residents pepper their speech with the historical dialect of Boontling. Found floating in a basket on the river as an infant, Bulrusher is an orphan with a gift for clairvoyance that makes her feel like a stranger even amongst the strange: the taciturn schoolteacher who adopted her, the madam who runs her brothel with a fierce discipline, the logger with a zest for horses and women, and the guitar-slinging boy who is after Bulrusher’s heart. Just when she thought her world might close in on her, she discovers an entirely new sense of self when a black girl from Alabama comes to town. Passionate, lyrical, and chock full of down-home humor, this play is an unforgettable experience by a new, thrilling voice. 3m, 3f
Golda by William Gibson
A dramatization of the extraordinary life of Golda Meir, a remarkable woman and former prime minister of Israel. The play focuses on Mrs. Meir during the ten days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War which began disastrously for Israel and ended with partial, inconclusive victory. The war scenes alternate with the key moments in her life: her pogrom threatened childhood in Russia, growing up in Milwaukee, her marriage to the gentle, introverted Morris Meyerson, their emigration to Palestine, the heightened hope presented by the dream of a Jewish homeland and the struggle to make the dream a reality and her loving but wrenching conflict with her husband (and her own guilt) over the political career that interfered with her life as wife and mother. 18m, 7f
Rose’s Dilemma by Neil Simon
In her beach house in the Hamptons, celebrated writer Rose Stern stands at a crossroads: she hasn’t written anything in years and money is getting short. Her former lover, literary lion Walsh McLaren, offers her-from beyond the grave-an opportunity to regain her celebrity and gross millions. It’s not going to be easy and a “ghost” writer is required setting in motion another touching and unpredictable romantic theatrical by America’s premier Pulitzer Prize-winning comic playwright. 2m, 2f
Somewhere Fun by Jenny Schwartz
Rosemary and Evelyn met “a hundred thousand years ago” in Central Park when their children were barely born. This story reunites the two women thirty-five years later on Madison Avenue, one windy fall day. With their children now grown and the world changing rapidly before (what’s left of) their eyes, each finds herself face to face with the terrors, joys, and surprises of life and time. This is a wildly original story about connection — to our families, our memories, and our moment in time. 2m, 5f, 1boy(s), 1girl(s)
Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson
Tonight, 18th century scientific genius Emilie du Châtelet is back and determined to answer the question she died with: love or philosophy, head or heart? In this highly theatrical, fast, funny, sexy rediscovery of one of history’s most intriguing women, Emilie defends her life and loves; and ends up with both a formula and a legacy that permeates history. 2m, 3f
Battle Hymn by Jim Leonard Jr.
The story of 16-year-old Martha’s epic pregnancy and her incredible search for motherhood, meaning, and love in a war-torn American landscape. After being abandoned by her father, losing her true love and witnessing the horrors of the Civil War firsthand, Martha settles on one incontrovertible fact: She will not raise her baby in a blood-soaked, violent country. And so, Martha keeps traveling in search of a better world and a safe place to bring forth her child… this is easier said than done. From the mud and the blood of Fort Sumter to singing cows, San Francisco and the summer of love, Martha’s journey embodies the tragedy, humor and hope that have helped shape the last 150 years of U.S. history. 4m, 1f
Ohio State Murders by Adrienne Kennedy
This play portrays Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer. Similar to many of Adrienne Kennedy’s characters, Suzanne’s life both is, and is not, like her author’s. When Suzanne enters Ohio State University in 1949, little does she know what the supposed safe haven of academia holds in store. Years later, Suzanne is invited to return to the University to talk about the violence in her writing. A dark mystery unravels. The play is an intriguing, unusual and chilling look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S. 2m, 4f
Photo: Skylight Theatre Company and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s production of Bulrusher. Patrick Cragin, Biana Lemaire and Chauntae Pink. Credit: Ed Krieger.