Howie, Diana 1945- (Diana Melson Howie)
Howie, Diana 1945- (Diana Melson Howie)
Born June 1, 1945, in Miami, FL; married. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Attended University of Wales at Cardiff, 1965-66; Tulane University, B.A., 1967; Columbia University, M.S., 1972; University of Houston, M.A., 1992.
Playwright. Worked as a librarian, 1972-85; writer 1985—. Country Playhouse, Houston, TX, coordinator of annual "New Play Reading Series," 1993—, and playwright in residence, 1997—; teaching artist in elementary schools for Texas Institute for the Arts in Education.
Dramatists Guild of America.
Award from Women's Playwright Festival, 1993, for Marilyn's Boy; winner of Scritpwriters/Houston competition, 1994, for "Perry Boy"; winner of Nantucket Theatrical Productions competition, 1997, for Judy's Friend; award from Texas Educational Theatre Association, 2001, for Susanna and Will; award from Trustus Theater Playwrights Festival, 2002, for Top Dogs.
Susanna of Stratford, produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, at Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, 1990.
Judy's Friend (one-act), produced in Houston, TX, at University of Houston Theater, 1992.
(With Jeanette Wiggins) You Can't Wear It Out, produced as Burette in Houston, TX, at Country Playhouse, 1993.
Marilyn's Boy (one-act), produced in Houston, TX, 1993.
Madame Delicieuse, produced in Houston, TX, 1997.
Top Dogs, produced in Houston, TX, 1997.
The Brightest Light (produced in Houston, TX, 1998), Playscripts (New York, NY), 2004.
No Cash Value, produced in Houston, TX, 1999.
At Liberty, produced in Houston, TX, 2000.
Jackson Square, produced in Houston, TX, 2001.
(With Anna Fay Williams) The Jury (musical), produced in Houston, TX, 2004.
Susanna and Will, produced in Houston, TX, 2008.
Also author of several short plays, including "Carmen," produced 1992, and (with Gerald LaBita) "Perry Boy," produced 1993; creator of other works for the stage, including "I Do Trills Now" (scripted interludes for a piano concert); plays for children include "Hansel and Gretel" (for children), produced in Houston, TX, 1999, and "The Street Where I Live," presented as a workshop performance in Houston, TX, 2002.
Tight Spots: True-to-Life Monolog Characterizations for Student Actors, Meriwether Publishing (Colorado Springs, CO), 1999.
Contributing editor, New Jersey Monthly.
Performances of some of Howie's plays, notably Madame Delicieuse and The Jury, have been recorded on videotape or compact disc.
Diana Howie was a reference librarian for nearly thirteen years before she discovered a new vocation: writing. She accidentally stumbled upon this new career when she approached editors at the New Jersey Monthly about a magazine article on funding cuts at libraries. Howie ended up writing the piece herself and the article was published as a feature story. She also became a regular contributing editor to the magazine at this point. But it was not until later, when she moved from New Jersey to Houston, Texas, that Howie seriously considered pursuing writing as a career. The fact that her husband was employed and did not mind being "a patron of the arts," as Howie commented, made the transition easier financially.
The turning point in Howie's life came one day as she was taking a driving tour of the west bank of the Hudson River. She stopped to read the historical marker at the site where U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr fought his famous duel with the former secretary of the United States Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in July 1804. Howie found the story fascinating and, while researching its details, began to envision it as a play. She completed the first draft in 1985, yet it was another thirteen years before the play, The Brightest Light, was actually produced.
In the intervening years Howie completed her studies and wrote six other plays. No one was probably more surprised at this change of career than Howie herself. She commented that although she had always been an enthusiastic audience member, she had never considered writing for the stage, making her choice of taking up playwriting as a full-time occupation surprising even to her. Her first play, Susanna of Stratford, was produced at Scotland's famous Fringe Festival in 1990. It is a monologue in which William Shakespeare's daughter finally comes to terms with the discrepancies between what society at large thinks of her father and what she herself believes. The play has two forty-five-minutes act, with Act One able to be staged on its own. Set in the seventeenth century, the play combines the sensibilities of Elizabethan England and the Puritan Revolution and brings them to life for twenty-first-century audiences.
Another play is Judy's Friend, about an aging midget who lives in a bookstore marked for demolition. In an effort to stop the demolition, he puts on a display of Judy Garland memorabilia. Insights about the film industry and Judy Garland's death are conveyed through the play. Howie wrote a followup to Judy's Friend, calling it Marilyn's Boy. In this work, actress Marilyn Monroe's illegitimate son copes with losing his good looks. In addition to being appropriate vehicles for a one-person performance, both plays can be performed separately or as a combined whole. Critics praised the plays for portraying an authentic picture of the destruction of society while offering a ray of hope at the end from an unlikely source.
Howie wrote You Can't Wear It Out with Jeanette Wiggins. Originally produced as Burette, the play was also considered as a possible Hollywood script for actor James Garner in 1997. It is a comedy in which the central character, Burette Furder, gets married for the fifth time at age eighty-one. Burette has never lost his zest for life, and the play's action is derived from the perseverance and regeneration of his ever-present desire for romance.
The play Madame Delicieuse is a warm-hearted drama about a mother and her two children and their efforts to cope with the absence of the children's father in their lives. Another play, Top Dogs, was described by Howie in the Houston Chronicle as a "sort of Brechtian Everyman's tale." Michael Harrison, the play's protagonist, is a young, up-and-coming teacher who encounters various levels of power-play at every step of his career. Different character types make their debut through the span of the play to undermine Michael's attempts to establish a life "without having to compete every minute of the day." Reviewers found the play both funny and sadly true, an unfortunate reflection on modern society where human interaction becomes a competition of sorts.
The Brightest Light is the play that "started it all" for Howie. At the core of the play is the duel between Burr and Hamilton, an actual occurrence during which Hamilton was shot and killed by the vice president. Although the shooting occurred in 1804, Howie saw parallels with events occurring within the U.S. presidency in 1998—specifically the misfortunes of President Bill Clinton. In her interview for the Houston Chronicle she explained: "It dovetails with Clinton's problems," comparing the Democratic president's sex scandal with Hamilton's many romantic affairs, which became public and ultimately led to his demise. Critics acknowledged the play as being powerful and noted that it put contemporary events in a whole new perspective.
Howie commented that she usually starts with a story that is rooted in detail; the progress of that story eventually reveals a theme to her. No Cash Value, which explores the twin themes of adolescents taking responsibility for themselves and becoming aware of the needs of others, and the increasing needs of an older man down on his luck, was a departure from her usual method of writing. Here, as the author noted, she started out with "a character with an attitude" and developed a story around him.
Drawing on her former career, Howie's At Liberty is set inside a public library and focuses on the chaos that develops when a librarian has a determined attitude to avoid problems. Susan, a young librarian, is more than willing to help people find information but refuses to maintain any kind of order. Unwillingness to handle the increasing number of rowdy library patrons gives rise to a situation of farcical proportions. Howie noted in the Houston Chronicle: "The library is really a metaphor for democracy. It's like Central Park. It's a big, public space where no one is really in charge, but everyone has to take responsibility for their actions or the system won't work."
Howie noted that the most important elements she considers when writing her plays are structure, dramatic action, conflict, syntax, and metaphor. Though she is not actively involved in the production process, she attends auditions and rehearsals for the first productions of her plays, and retains approval on casting choices. After the first production closes, Howie often makes revisions to her script, basing her changes on audience reactions and critical feedback.
In an effort to promote new talent, Howie also organizes the Houston Country Playhouse "New Play Reading Series," a program designed to present new plays by local authors. She also edits the theater's newsletter. She commented in her Houston Chronicle interview that it remains her dream to have high school theater students perform her plays "over and over again, until the teachers get sick of them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Houston Chronicle, April 18, 1997, Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, "Playing out a Midlife Fantasy," pp. 1D, 10D; February 21, 1998, Annette Baird, "Play Explores Scandal of U.S. Founding Father," pp. 1, 5, and "‘Light’ Took More than a Decade to Reach the Stage," pp. 1, 6.
The Jury: A New Musical,http://www.thejurymusical.com (April 25, 2008).