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‘Think Tank’ to Explore Elected Women

Art imitates life in the Arena Stage production of “An American Daughter” by Wendy Wasserstein.

The play centers on Lyssa Dent Hughes, the daughter of a prominent Senator and a brilliant doctor at the top of her profession as the presidential nominee for surgeon general. Hughes’ life seems flawless until a reporter latches on to a story that shatters the doctor’s image, transforming her overnight from the savior of women’s health to the embodiment of what’s wrong with America.

“This is a quintessential Washington story. Wendy Wasserstein has a gift for capturing the cadences of a particular society, almost as if she lived there,” Artistic Director Wendy Smith said in a press release.

Wasserstein’s poignant character struggles with life within the media feeding frenzy. The character questions whether she should be a sacrificial lamb to the president or stand her ground against those who seek to rip her apart.

The play provides the Arena Stage with the perfect opportunity to jump-start its new discussion series. The Think Tank is a 90-minute-long round-table discussion that explores issues in contemporary theater reflective of today’s society.

“We want to give our audience the chance to identify the broader themes, the things they might not have actively thought about during the performance,” Audience Enrichment Manager Anne-Marie Dittmann said. “The D.C. theater community is an intellectual group that enjoys the extra thought-provoking stimulation.”

The first Think Tank topic is “The Political Front: Elected and Appointed Women in the Political Arena.” Gwen Ifil, the managing editor of Washington Week and senior editor of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” will moderate a panel of distinguished female political and media professionals.

“‘American Daughter’ was a natural selection for the Think Tank because it’s about politics, and what better place than Washington to find women who can relate to the themes in the play?” Dittmann said.

Feminist icon Betty Friedan, a founding member of the National Organization for Women and author of “The Feminine Mystique,” will join Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) in the discussion. Marcia Greenburger, president of the Women’s Law Center, and Jackie Judd, the ABC news correspondent credited with broadcasting the first allegations of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, will also add their expertise to the mix.

The panelists will discuss questions raised throughout the play, such as: Do we build up our political leaders only to tear them down? Do we hold women in politics to a higher standard than men in the same position?

“We entirely expect the discussion will take its own course and evolve in its own direction as the speakers share their own thoughts and experiences,” Dittmann said.

The questions are not scripted, and audience members can present their own questions at the end. The goal of the Think Tank is to involve theatergoers and engage them both in the art and the social commentary of theater.

“Discussions shouldn’t stop when the curtain goes up,” Arena spokeswoman Denise Schneider said. “People should continue talking about those themes that enrich us as people.”

The event will be held at 8 p.m. May 19 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Tickets are $10. “An American Daughter” continues through June 1. Tickets are $35-$53.

Dittmann said the theater plans to continue the Think Tank next season. Look for two round-table discussions of main stage productions starting in September.

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