Meadow Brook Theatre presents ‘Birthday Club’

The gender distribution of playwrights is extremely disproportionate. As of the 2016-17 season, 75.4 percent of all plays written were by men, according to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition.

While women play a game of catch up against historical disparity, men are writing their stories – one being Meadow Brook Theatre’s (MBT) first show of the new year, “Birthday Club” by Phil Olson.

The story is a relatively simple one: five women make it a tradition to gather and celebrate each other’s birthdays. Throughout the show we see these women grow through their own personal issues with the love and support of her friends. The question I can’t help but shake is whether this story — one of the unspoken kinship among women — is properly communicated when written through the lens of a man.

MBT’s “Birthday Club” cast and production team caught onto this dilemma and did what they could to keep the story authentic to the voices of real women, as opposed to stereotypical female caricatures. 

“Amongst the five women in the play, we have found bits and pieces where we said, ‘Okay, this isn’t exactly a female point of view.’ You can kind of feel that,” Debbie Williams, who portrayed the role of Emily, said. “But, we’re all very experienced actors and so we can bring our own womanly spin, if you will, to the words that don’t quite fit our vernacular.”

It’s not only the cast who help make the story ring true to the feminine experience, but the production team who encouraged open conversation about the more questionable moments in the script. 

“There have been many times when what was written on the page brought up discussion about how we as women would do it, how we would frame it and what feels natural to us, as opposed to how things are done in the script,” Sara Kmiec, who played Sarah, said.

I thought it was obvious in the show where the writing fell short of the nature of women, but that’s where I felt the talent and direction saved it. When you watch these actresses work on stage, they are believable depictions of women, despite what their character might look like on paper.

“It’s been a journey taking what he’s written and really grounding it as a cast of women,” Kmiec said. “[The cast discussed] the differences between how we as women would react versus what was initially on the page, and I think — without changing the dialogue — made it into a very realistic thing.”

Williams admitted that this show was a challenge from an actor’s perspective. It came down to a balance between comedy and truth; it was this practice that helped in keeping the show from feeling like a misrepresentation of women of all kinds.

“You have to find truth even in a comedic, silly, slapstick-y character that’s been blown out of proportion for laughs,” Williams said. “You have to find that truth and it is there, it’s written in. I think that was our job: to look past all the funny and find why this woman is here. […] Each character has an arc in that way that allows us to connect to what we really believe women are all about.”

While the actresses did a phenomenal job in keeping the show genuine and truthful, there’s still the issue of the male perspective it’s ultimately written from. While I find it controversial, I think that it allows for a healthy conversation about how women are perceived in literature (whether it’s a proper representation or not).

“One of us said it wasn’t his story to write, which is kind of true, but at [the show’s] core I think it really does try to capture and celebrate women supporting women,” Kmiec said.

“Birthday Club” tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the MBT box office at 248-377-330 or purchasing online at Student discounts are available at the box office.

Special Ticket Discount: If your birthday falls between Jan 11 and Feb 5, enjoy 1 free ticket to “Birthday Club” with valid proof of your date of birth. All other members of your party are eligible for 20% off tickets. Call the box office to redeem this special birthday discount.