Women Behind Bars
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|Women Behind Bars|
|Written by||Tom Eyen|
|Date premiered||May 1, 1975|
|Place premiered||Astor Place Theatre
New York City
Women Behind Bars is a camp spoof theatrical play of the exploitation films produced by Universal, Warner Bros. and Republic Pictures in the 1950s. This black comedy play is set in the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village. Among the range of social and psychological types imprisoned within its walls are an innocent young woman (framed by her husband on a charge of armed robbery), who is brutalized, betrayed and sexually assaulted throughout her eight years of incarceration (she is ultimately broken by the system and leaves jail a hard-edged, gum-chomping drug dealer), a chain-smoking, gum-snapping street-wise tough girl, and a delicate Southern belle reminiscent of Blanche DuBois. Lording over all is the sadistic matron and her tough-as-nails sidekick.
The subtle hints of lesbianism found in the original B-movies are played broadly for laughs throughout. The New York Times described it as "an extraordinarily interesting work from one of America's most innovative and versatile playwrights."  The play has been translated into Hebrew, and Eyen and Divine wrote a 1978 sequel called The Neon Woman that was produced in San Francisco.
The original production at the off-Broadway Astor Place Theatre opened on May 1, 1975 with a cast headed by Pat Ast, Helen Hanft, Mary-Jennifer Mitchell and Sharon Barr.. It was revived the following year at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre with Pink Flamingos star Divine as the matron. It quickly developed a cult following and became a success. Secondary productions in Los Angeles and London enjoyed extended runs and it was revived in Los Angeles in 1983 in a production directed by Ron Link and featuring Lu Leonard, Adrienne Barbeau and Sharon Barr, where it ran for almost a year, first at the Cast Theater and then moving to the Roxy Theatre. It remains a popular choice of gay repertory companies, such as San Francisco's Theatre Rhinoceros.
On May 7, 2012 The New Group presented a reading of Women Behind Bars featuring Charles Busch (The Matron), Halley Feiffer (Mary-Eleanor), Janeane Garofalo (Louise), Nancy Giles (Jo-Jo), Josh Hamilton (the men), Natasha Lyonne (Cheri), Cynthia Nixon (Blanche), Rosie O'Donnell (Gloria), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Guadalupe), Rhea Perlman (Granny, The Warden) and Jennifer Tilly (Ada). The reading was directed by Scott Elliot.