Playwright-actress Minita Gandhi in a previous production of Muthaland.

This year, as Florida Studio Theatre prepares for a communitywide bicentennial celebration of women’s suffrage in America, it’s shining a special light on women playwrights. Part of FST’s Sarasota Festival of New Plays, the NNPN (National New Play Network) Women in Playwriting Festival takes place with staged readings of four featured plays April 24, 26, May 3 and May 10.

The four playwrights included—Sarah Bierstock, Minita Gandhi, Jacqueline Goldfinger and Lia Romeo—are each heading to Sarasota for a week of rehearsals and development sessions with FST’s artistic stuff. At the end of each week, a staged reading is performed, followed by a talkback session where the writers will receive audience feedback.

First up is an untitled work in progress by Bierstock, whose first play, Honor Killing, received its world premiere production at FST last spring. Her new piece concentrates on an all-female family gathering for the Christmas holiday following the death of the family matriarch. The next play, Babel, by Goldfinger receives a reading April 26; for more about that, look here.

Lia Romeo’s The Forest is up next, May 3. “It’s the story of a mother and daughter who are both going through bad times,” said Romeo in a recent interview with Sarasota Magazine. “The mother has Alzheimer’s disease, which advances throughout the play, and the daughter is going through a divorce at the same time. It’s about how they navigate their relationship with each other and looking outside for help.” Oh, and it takes place as a mysterious forest starts to grow in the family’s living room.

Playwright Lia Romeo

Minita Gandhi’s Muthaland, which closes the Women in Playwriting Festival May 10, is probably the most completely developed of the plays, having already received productions in Chicago, Oregon and at colleges and universities around the country. In it, Gandhi, who also performs, relates the autobiographical story of her visit back to her birthplace of Mumbai, India, with her parents for her brother’s arranged marriage. “There is some dramatic license,” Gandhi says, “but all the events that happen in the play are real events in my life.” And those events range from the funny to the terrible, as Gandhi reveals the real-life sexual assault she faced while at a meditation retreat. That’s a part of her story she didn’t include in the play originally, she says. But she felt something was missing, and news reports of other, tragic assaults in India “made me put that part in the play,” she says. Still, she adds, the play is “85 percent comedy—until it’s not.”

The readings at FST take place in Bowne’s Lab and the Keating Theatre at 3 p.m.; they are free and open to the public, but reservations are required and can be made by calling 366-9000, visiting the box office or going online at floridastudiotheatre.org.

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