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True Calling

A glance at the current Broadway marquees makes a strong case for the predominance of compelling and challenging theater roles for women of various age and...

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Leigh Silverman

Photo By Pasha Antonov

A glance at the current Broadway marquees makes a strong case for the predominance of compelling and challenging theater roles for women of various age and experience. Veteran Irish actress Sinead Cusack is wowing audiences in "Rock 'N' Roll," Rosie Perez is putting on "The Ritz," Phylicia Rashad is taking a stab at Shakespeare in "Cymbeline" and White Way neophytes Jennifer Garner and Claire Danes have both found meaty parts in classic works. But behind the velvet curtains it's a different story as female directors are still rare enough to warrant a gender descriptive.

Though young by most standards at 33, Leigh Silverman has already carved a niche for herself working almost exclusively on new plays, including Lisa Kron's "Well," which in 2005 made her one of the youngest women to ever direct on Broadway. Her latest effort is David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face," which opened last week at the Public Theater.

Sitting in the Public's green room, Starbucks in hand and suffering from a cold, her enthusiasm and passion make it clear why and how the lanky, raven-haired Silverman has earned such notice in what she describes as "firmly an all-boys' club."

"For me, it's about the singular experience of being in a community of people who come into a show and, depending on the energy of that audience, the energy of the actors, something kinetic happens. Something that is truly unique each night and I think that it's so human," she explains of her commitment to her chosen medium. "You feel connected to the people around you."

With "Yellow Face," Silverman has the task of juggling a stylistically complex and politically charged work. Written by Hwang of "M. Butterfly" fame, the play is narrated by his dramatic alter ego, DHH, who is protesting the casting of the Caucasian Jonathan Pryce as the lead in "Miss Saigon." When his objections go unmet, he decides to write a new work, "Face Value," and ironically casts a Caucasian actor by accident and, discovering his mistake, concocts a ludicrously fake ethnic background to mask his error. The consequences of his cover-up initiate a spiral of events that challenge his own identity issues.
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