Howe, Tina 1937-
HOWE, Tina 1937-
PERSONAL: Born November 21, 1937, in New York, NY; daughter of Quincy (a broadcaster and writer) and Mary (an artist; maiden name, Post) Howe; married Norman Levy, 1961; children: Eben, Dara. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1959; graduate study at Chicago Teachers College, 1963-64, and Columbia University.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—Flora Roberts, 157 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Playwright and educator. New York University, New York, NY, adjunct professor, beginning 1983; Hunter College, City University of New York, visiting professor, beginning 1990.
AWARDS, HONORS: Rosamund Gilder Award for creative achievement, New Drama Forum, 1983; Rockefeller grant, 1983; Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway play, 1983-84, for Painting Churches; Obie Award for distinguished playwrighting, 1983, for Painting Churches, The Art of Dining, and Museum; John Gassner Award, 1984; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1984; Antoinette Perry Award nomination for best play, 1987, for Coastal Disturbances; honorary degree from Bowdoin College, 1988; Guggenheim fellowship, 1990; American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature, 1993; Pulitzer Prize in Drama nomination, 1997, and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play, 1998, both for Pride's Crossing.
Closing Time, produced in Bronxville, NY, 1959.
The Nest, produced in Provincetown, MA, 1969, produced off-Broadway, 1970.
Museum (produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1976, produced in New York, NY, 1977), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1979.
The Art of Dining (produced at New York Shakespeare Festival, 1979), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1980.
Appearances, produced in New York, NY, 1982.
Painting Churches (produced in New York, NY, 1983; produced in London, England, 1992), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1984.
Three Plays (includes Museum, The Art of Dining, and Painting Churches), Avon (New York, NY), 1984.
Coastal Disturbances (produced off-Broadway, 1986), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1987.
Coastal Disturbances: Four Plays (includes Painting Churches, The Art of Dining, and Museum), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1989.
Approaching Zanzibar (produced off-Broadway, 1989), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1989.
Swimming, produced in New York, NY), 1991.
One Shoe Off (produced on Broadway, 1993), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1993.
Approaching Zanzibar, and Other Plays (includes Birth and After Birth and One Shoe Off), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1995.
Pride's Crossing (two-act; produced in New York, NY, 1997), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1998.
Also author of Teeth, published in Antaeus, spring, 1991. Birth and After Birth, was originally published in The New Women's Theatre, Vintage (New York, NY), 1977.
ADAPTATIONS: A production of Painting Churches was adapted to videocassette, 1986.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A screenplay, A Man's Place; a play, Realities, to accompany "Appearances."
SIDELIGHTS: Noted playwright Tina Howe first became interested in penning dramas during her university years. While attending Sarah Lawrence College she wrote Closing Time, a work that focuses on the end of the world; the production was highly acclaimed among Sarah Lawrence students. Howe credits her college peers' approbation of her dramatic effort with sparking her desire to become a professional playwright. Upon graduation she traveled to Europe, and there became acquainted with the theater of the absurd when she saw a performance of The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco. She thereafter felt an affinity for absurdist theater, and has since explored the theme of absurdity in realistic situations throughout her work. According to an American Women Writers essayist, "Howe's plays develop a rhythmic energy that carry them beyond the ordinary and into a heightened realism bordering on the fantastic or absurd, ending in a release: unexpected silliness [or] poignant ecstasy."
Museum, which was produced in New York in 1977 and features several characters wandering about a museum while commenting on art, was praised by New Yorker's Edith Oliver as "an enchanting show." Oliver wrote: "The play is itself a collage of words and characters and action. . . . It has plenty of wit and humor, and no idea appears to be emphasized over any other."
Oliver was also impressed with Howe's The Art of Dining. She called the play, which concerns the struggles of a young couple to operate a restaurant in New Jersey, a "delightful little comedy." The Art of Dining resembles Museum in its vast array of characters and comedic incidents, and Oliver was entertained especially by a "sensationally awkward, nearsighted . . . young writer . . . , who, dining with her middleaged publisher, manages to spill a full plate of soup into her lap and on being furnished with a second plate drowns her lipstick in it." A writer for Contemporary Dramatists especially praised the characterization of Elizabeth Barrow Colt (the writer in the play) as "one of Howe's most brilliant creations."
In 1983 Howe was granted an Obie Award for distinguished playwriting for Museum and The Art of Dining, as well and for Painting Churches. This play, which is somewhat autobiographical, traces artist Mags Church's visit to her ageing parents' home in Boston. Mags's father, Gardner, once a prize-winning poet, is now in the beginning stages of senility, and his wife, Fanny, must bear the burden of this unwelcome illness. While Mags struggles to capture her parents in a portrait, she gradually learns to accept the inevitability of their decline. "Howe's quirky sense of humor and her distinctive verbal and visual idiom mark [this] work," stated a Contemporary Dramatists writer.
Coastal Disturbances was described as "a charming play, a landscape of the human heart in miniature" by Nation reviewer Moira Hodgson in discussing Howe's 1986 drama, which began as an off-Broadway production and later ran for 350 performances on Broadway. The piece, set on a private New England beach, examines the inner lives of the characters who visit the area during the final two weeks of summer. "Her characters . . . are vivid and recognizable," said Hodgson, noting also that "Howe is very good at dialogue." However, in a review for the New Republic, Robert Brustein felt that such a talented writer as Howe is capable of something much better than this "vapid and bloodless" piece. A Contemporary Dramatists critic commented that the setting of Coastal Disturbances "is as much metaphor as place."
Howe's next play, Approaching Zanzibar, reunited the playwright with friend, actress, and former Sarah Lawrence classmate Jane Alexander. In the play, which Alexander starred in, a family of four, seemingly on a cross-country vacation, are actually on their way to visit a dying aunt in Taos, New Mexico. Along the way, the family plays a geography game as a way to pass the time and to alleviate their feelings of anxiety about what awaits them at the end of their journey. Howe "has infused new energy into her work. . . . [yet] sustained her gift for hinting at profound meanings in humdrum moments," remarked Time contributor William Henry III.
A Greek Revival farmhouse that is being invaded by huge trees which emerge through ceilings and floors and vegetables which sprout in any conveniently damp area is the setting for One Shoe Off. Inside this unusual dwelling, two married couples and a friend are struggling to have a dinner party. During the day these five characters explore the relative barrenness of their personal and professional lives against the lush background of the overgrown farmhouse. One Shoe Off was viewed by some critics as showing Howe's return to her absurdist roots, while a Contemporary Dramatists essayist cited it as "among Howe's most complex and rich works."
"Rarely has [Howe's] work exhibited [such] emotional depth and power," stated Booklist contributor Jack Helbig in regard to Pride's Crossing, produced in 1998. The play features ninety-year-old Mabel Tiding Bigelow, the first female athlete to swim across the English channel from the difficult direction of England to France. The play switches back and forth between memories of her younger days and her old age, to give the viewer insight into Mabel's complicated life. Pride's Crossing "moves fluidly from the present to the past," said Judy Richter in a Back Stage West review. Charles Isherwood noted in Variety that the play "is a lovely achievement for both Howe and The Old Globe Theater," and felt that the finale "is immensely moving. . . . a moment both sad and beautiful, a moment of great art."
Howe once told CA: "I find enormous pleasure in making playwriting as difficult as possible. I go out of my way to look for unlikely settings and situations; art museums, restaurants, fitting rooms, places that are basically predictable and uneventful. Nothing is more theatrical than putting the unexpected on stage. Because the theatre is a palace of dreams, the more original the spectacle, the better. I'm hopelessly drawn to digging out the flamboyant in everyday life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Women Writers, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig, editors, Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights, Beech Tree Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 15, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
American Drama, spring, 1992, Kenneth E. Johnston, "Tina Howe and Feminine Discourse," pp. 15-25.
Back Stage West, September 2, 1999, Judy Richter, review of Pride's Crossing, p. 13; March 23, 2000, Zach Udko, review of Painting Churches, pp. 18-19.
Booklist, August, 1990, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. 2147; October 15, 1998, Jack Helbig, review of Pride's Crossing, p. 387.
Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1989, John Beaufort, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. 10; April 27, 1993, Frank Scheck, review of One Shoe Off, p. 14.
Commonweal, January 13, 1984, Gerald Weales, review of Painting Churches, pp. 16-17.
Entertainment Weekly, February 13, 1998, Jess Cagle, review of Pride's Crossing, pp. 62-63.
Kliatt, winter, 1985, review of Three Plays, p. 29.
Library Journal, September 1, 1997, Ming-ming Shen Kuo, "Plays for Actresses," p. 183.
Nation, January 10, 1987, Moira Hodgson, review of Coastal Disturbances, pp. 24-26.
New Republic, January 5, 1987, Robert Brustein, review of Coastal Disturbances, pp. 26-27.
Newsday, December 7, 1997, Patrick Pacheo, review of Pride's Crossing, p. D17; December 8, 1997, Linda Winer, "Swimming into a Flood of Memories," p. B9.
New York, December 1, 1986, John Simon, review of Coastal Disturbances, pp. 148-149; March 30, 1987, John Simon, review of Coastal Disturbances, p. 97; May 15, 1989, John Simon, review of Approaching Zanzibar, pp. 124-125; May 3, 1993, John Simon, review of One Shoe Off, pp. 82-83; December 22, 1997, John Simon, review of Pride's Crossing, pp. 120-121.
New Yorker, March 6, 1978, December 17, 1979, May 24, 1982; December 1, 1986, Edith Oliver, review of Coastal Disturbances, p. 111; May 15, 1989, Edith Oliver, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. 94; May 3, 1993, Edith Oliver, review of One Shoe Off, p. 99; January 5, 1998, John Lahr, review of Pride's Crossing, p. 79.
New York Times, April 10, 1970, February 28, 1978; December 7, 1979; February 18, 1983; November 20, 1986, Frank Rich, review of Coastal Disturbances, p. 22; January 7, 1987; May 19, 1986, John J. O'Connor, review of Painting Churches, p. 21; May 17, 1987, Walter Kerr, review of Coastal Disturbances, p. H43; May 5, 1989, Frank Rich, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. B2; April 16, 1993, Frank Rich, review of One Shoe Off, p. B1; December 8, 1997, Ben Brantley, review of Pride's Crossing, p. B1; January 11, 1998, Vincent Canby, review of Pride's Crossing, p. AR5.
Theatre Crafts, May, 1985, Susan Lieberman, review of Painting Churches, pp. 18-20.
Theatre Journal, May, 1996, Helena M. White, review of Birth and After Birth, pp. 223-225.
Time, May 15, 1989, William A. Henry III, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. 87; April 26, 1993, review of One Shoe Off, p. 71.
Variety, May 10, 1989, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. 119; April 19, 1993, Jeremy Gerard, review of One Shoe Off, p. 53; September 25, 1995, Toby Zinman, review of Birth and After Birth, p. 105; February 10, 1997, Charles Isherwood, review of Pride's Crossing, p. 76.
Vogue, February, 1993, Sean Elder, "Who's Afraid of Tina Howe?," pp. 106-107.
Wall Street Journal, December 10, 1986, Sylviane Gold, review of Coastal Disturbances, p. 32E; May 12, 1989, Laurie Winer, review of Approaching Zanzibar, p. A10; December 10, 1997, Donald Lyons, review of Pride's Crossing, p. A20.
Washington Post, March 27, 1996, David Richards, review of Birth and After Birth, p. C1.*