Marlane Meyer, early years

Biography

Marlane was born in San Francisco and raised in San Pedro.  Marlane Meyer is of Polynesian and Native American (Cherokee) ancestry on her father’s side and German and Swedish on her mother’s side. She attended California State University-Long Beach 0where she studied under Murray Mednick, one of the founder of the Padua Hills Festival. She was the dramaturg for the Latino Actor’s Workshop at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1986. Meyer has a bicoastal career; she has worked in both Los Angeles and New York. In addition to a successful television writing career, including episodes of “Sirens”, the teleplay of “Better Off Dead”, “Life Stories” for NBC, and “Out of the Sixties” for HBO, she teaches playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. Meyer is a member of the New York Playwrights, the Dramatists Guild, the Women’s Project, PEN Center West, and the Polynesian Society, and she is an alumna of New Dramatists.

Although Meyer is not yet acknowledged as an important contemporary American or Asian American playwright, her works have been awarded many prizes. Etta Jenks won the Kesselring Award and the Dramalogue Award in 1987; Kingfish won the Dramalogue Award in 1988 and the PEN Center West Award in 1989; The Geography of Luck won the Dramalogue Award in 1989; and Moe’s Lucky Seven won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 1993. Meyer also received the Brody Foundation Grant for Literature in 1987, the Creative Anists Public Service Grant in 1989, and a National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship in 1990. Moreover, Meyer, a former playwright-in-residence of the Padua Hills Playwrights’ Workshop, belongs to various literary coteries, such as the Dramatists Guild, the Writers‘ Guild of America East, PEN Center West, the New York Playwrights’ Lab, and the Women’s Project.

Play Descriptions

Marlane Meyer writes in a style that she describes as “extended realism”; it is a gritty, evocative melding of poetry with the underbelly of popular culture. Etta Jenks, for example, employs twenty-one scenes and fourteen character to depict one woman’s journey through the Los Angeles pornography business.

Published Works

Lon Shaw (later Why Things Burn)
Reading, Public Theatre, New York, 1992

Moe’s Lucky Seven
Reading, New Works Festival, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles. 1993
Production, Playwrights Horizons, New York, 1994

Why Things Burn
Production, Magic Theatre, San Francisco, 1994

MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES

A prolific writer, Meyer has only three plays published so far: Etta Jenks
(1988), The Geography of Luck (1989), and Moe’s Lucky Seven (1993). Her
works, generally speaking, deal with gritty reality and lives and relationships
between socially outcast characters.

Etta Jenks chronicles a girl’s “stardom” journey. With nineteen brief scenes and no standard exposition, this play opens with Etta, a girl from somewhere in the middle of the country, coming to Los Angeles by train to become a movie star. Discouraged by lack of opportunity and money, Etta is coerced by a slimy porno king named Ben into becoming a porno actress. Then she works as an agent who scouts “talented” girls for porno movies. Succeeding in the porno business, Etta avenges her innocence and the “disappearance” of her friend Sheri on Ben. The play ends with a powerful Etta. a porno-film producer, interviewing a young woman interested in working for her.

The Geography of Luck also elides an exposition but consists of eighteen episodic scenes. Centering around an ex-rock star, Dixie, who has just been released from prison, the play delineates the protagonist’s relationships with his father, mother, women, and friends in his life. As Meyer notes, “[Dixie‘s] relationships in the play are the landmarks that guide him, teach him, and move him through the terrain—hopefully toward something like the promised land, to home . . . to yourself” (“Mapping the American Heart”). The primary back- ground of The Geography of Luck is Las Vegas; however, some of the scenes, as the dramatist notes, are set in dreams.

AWARDS

  • Kesselring Award for New Play, Etta Jenks, 1987
  • Dramalogue Award, Etta Jenks, 1987
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Finalist, Etta Jenks, 1987
  • Brody Foundation Grant for Literature, 1987
  • Dramalogue Award, Kingfish, 1988
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Finalist. Kingfish, 1989
  • Dramalogue Award, Geography of Luck, 1989
  • PEN Center West Award, Kingfish, 1989
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Finalist, Geography of Luck, 1990
  • National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, 1990
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Winner, Moe’s Lucky Seven, 1993

 

DESCRIPTIVE AND CRITICAL RESPONSES

Arkatov, Janice. “A Think Piece on the Pornography Industry.“ Los Angeles Times, I5
January 1988, VI, 8.

Dolan, Jill. “Gender, Sexuality and ‘My Life‘ in the (University).” Kenyon Review 15
(Spring 1993): 185-200.

Gussow. Mel. “Hollywood Ambitions, Cold Realities.” Review of Ena Jenks. New York
Times, 14 April I988, C26.