Diane Flacks, writer and performer in Unholy discusses some of the thoughts behind the show with Buddies blogger Johnnie Walker.
What was your inspiration this play? What influenced the notion of specifically women abandoning religion?
I’ve always circled religion, god, faith, and the outrageous misogyny in our monotheistic narratives in all my work. I wanted to tackle it more head-on. I saw a panel of religious and atheist women debate each other a number of years ago and was struck by the dignity of the orthodox feminists, living in, what seemed to me, cognitive dissonance. That and my own “angry atheism” plus interviews and research I conducted with women from the major monotheistic religions motivated me to try and give voice to the collision of feminism, faith, religion, and misogyny. Let’s face it: our world is going mad around religion. It always has been, but now we see and know more.
Also, I was really interested in what it would be like to throw love and sex into the mix—so the debate on the outside is about religion, but on the inside it’s between each woman’s ideas and her passions or secrets. And Buddies seems the perfect space to explore that in.
What’s the world of the play like? Do we only see the debate, or are there windows into other parts of these characters’ lives?
Yes, we’re going to see the debate and go for it full on. We also flash to moments of serious internal conflict in each woman’s life—and hopefully that helps illuminate their stances, or put them into uncomfortable relief. By doing that, I hope we, the audience, all question our ideas and our hearts.
Who are these women in your play and how have they come to this debate?
On the side that says women should abandon religion we have a well-known, lesbian, Jewish anti-theist who is famous for wit, ferocity and being uncompromising. Her partner is an ex-nun who had been in the Order for most of her life and is now in her 70s. She’s delightful and she does compromise in order to make people happy, but she has strong values and a secret shame. On the other side, arguing that women should embrace religion is a Progressive Muslim lawyer who will be tested about love and lust, and a Modern Orthodox Jewish spiritual leader who is forthright and a little judgmental but also harbours a deep secret longing.
Did you find, in your research, any religion or religious approach that did dovetail with feminism harmoniously?
Well, that’s unfair. In my research I found inspiring individuals, men and women, who are trying to adapt and enlighten religion so that everyone can participate fully. I met a 70-year old ex-nun who had left the church but believed even more strongly in the teachings and example of Christ as a basically feminist man. I know many brilliant Jewish female rabbis, who kick Torah’s butt when it comes to women in the bible, and I met one particularly fearless Muslim man who is pushing for a kind of feminism that is beyond what many other religions dare ask for.
How do you think religion is treating women in 2016? Is it getting better? Worse?
Well, it’s not Salem, but for the love of…whatever! We know more. We see more. And it looks worse to me. But we also have huge progress. Great, compassionate, and/or angry thinkers. I personally am an optimist. I really do think humanity itself is where hope lies. We can make the world a kind of heaven.