Top Girls

Top Girls Caryl Churchill and Socialist Theater

Bourgeois theater emphasizes the timelessness of human experience. Meanwhile, socialist theater works against this paradigm, attempting to demystify forms of social life and the human experience that are commonly portrayed as universal conditions. Bertolt Brecht, a 20th century German playwright and Marxist, argued that theater should not aim simply to represent a particular field of human emotion and action, but to intensify the audience’s experience of theater in order to transform the field itself. This notion of a political activism through theater is integral to the concept of Socialist Theater, which includes Caryl Churchill’s work. Churchill, however, explores a specifically feminist set of concerns, and her plays – including Top Girls – seek to demystify categories of class and gender in order to contribute to the political transformation of women. Top Girls, for instance, situates the narratives of Act 1 in a concrete historical situation which calls into question the idea that “woman” is an inherently stable or essential category. Similarly, the final scene of the play takes place in Joyce’s kitchen and living room, which constitutes a realist domestic space. The dialogue and conflict between Marlene and Joyce reveals that Marlene has effectively internalized and now reproduces some guiding presumptions of late capitalism – an intense emphasis on the individual, the denial of class as a meaningful category, and the notion that economic freedom by way of access to the market is the greatest freedom of all. These are among the supposedly “timeless” values that Churchill’s play means to challenge from a feminist angle.