Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pam Gems (1925-2011) (by res ipsa)

Reading the obituaries, once again, I see that the playwright Pam Gems died last Friday. (Isn't "Pam Gems" an excellent name?) In college, a friend put on a showcase of scenes from several Gems plays, and then got one of the professors in the English department to add Gems' "Queen Christina" to the syllabus during her final semester.

In 1970, after the family moved to London, she found her way to the fringe theater movement then taking shape. Already in her 40s, she made an awkward fit initially. "I was often called reactionary,” she told The Daily Telegraph of London in 2006. “The first time I went to a women’s group I took jam, because that’s what you do in the country — I was that na├»ve."

She soon found her footing and her subject, the complexities of women’s lives, which she explored in plays like “Betty’s Wonderful Christmas,” the monologues “My Warren” and “After Birthday,” and “The Amiable Courtship of Miz Venus and Wild Bill,” her first full-length play. “I realized that there was no authentic work about women: they were occasionally celebrated but never convincingly explored," she told the magazine Spare Rib in 1978.

Emotions ran hot at the time. On the opening night of “Go West, Young Woman,” about female American pioneers, at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, two feminist groups halted the production because it included male characters.

A complete list of Pam Gems' works is here.

Update: The Guardian's obituary is actually more comprehensive.