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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Lasso of Truth" Explores Wonder Woman's Unconventional Origins

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Lauren English (The Girl) and John Riedlinger (The Guy) in Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth. - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Lauren English (The Girl) and John Riedlinger (The Guy) in Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth.

Growing up in upstate New York, playwright Carson Kreitzer wasn't allowed to watch much TV, but her mom made an exception for Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, and Kreitzer loved seeing a strong, compassionate woman helping others rather than waiting to be rescued. While doing research on lie detectors for another play she was involved in, she found out that the man who had invented the precursor to that machine, psychologist William Moulton Marston, had also been the created her childhood heroine with her lasso of truth. She also learned about his unconventional lifestyle -- he had lived with both a wife and a research assistant, had children with both, and was interested in bondage. Suddenly Wonder Woman's bullet-deflecting cuffs, boots and bustier took on a whole different meaning.

Kreitzer was upset thinking that Wonder Woman was just another male sexual fantasy and started looking into Wonder Woman's creator and the women she was based on. That led her to write "Lasso of Truth," which is premiering at the Marin Theatre Company before going on to Georgia and Missouri.

In the play, we see the stories of the Inventor, the Wife and the Amazon (with the help of comic panels on the walls) as well as the contemporary story of the Girl, who wants the original Wonder Woman comic and the Guy, who works in a comic book store and owns that comic. Kreitzer talked to SF Weekly about the importance of heroes with kindness as well as power, unconventional views moving society forward, and how little boys as well as little girls needing strong women to look up to.

Did you read comics as a kid? I did, but my way into Wonder Woman was really the TV show. We really were not allowed to watch much TV, but there was an exception for Wonder Woman. She was a strong brunette heroine, so she was something really rare to see and my mom recognized that. I just loved her. I also occasionally got to watch the Shazam! Isis Power Hour, and both Wonder Woman and Isis had this peace-loving, conflict-resolution part to their superhuman abilities, which was pretty cool. In the play, Marston talks about wanting Wonder Woman to be compassionate and kind, not just strong. Did you notice that as a kid? Oh definitely. Her ways through things are very much about peace. It's definitely got some lessons about how to be in the world and how to be around other people, and how to be a good person. That's a lot of what those superhero comics can do -- they say right now you feel tiny and powerless, but here's a fantasy of power, and there's a big difference between having that fantasy be you can smash everyone vs. here's how to stop the bad guys and help the good people. It's really about making things right rather than hurting people. Kids absolutely pick up on that and feel that. When the TV show was being done, it really was a time of women's lib in this country. There really was a positive, feminist message. In one show, there's a female Nazi and Wonder Woman says to her, "Why are you working for these men? They don't have your best interests at heart. You're a woman. You should join us." (Laughs). You've said you were shocked when you found out that Marston created Wonder Woman when you were doing research on lie detectors. What was the most shocking thing about that? It's a series of boxes that keep opening and there keeps being another surprise in there. (Laughs) I guess just that he was into bondage. I got the tidbit that this guy was not only the inventor of what became the modern polygraph, but also created Wonder Woman and then one click away was everything! Then looking back on the costumes, the costumes that I had worn to look like her, the cuffs and the ropes. The idea that Wonder Woman, my smart, powerful Wonder Woman, was yet another part of this over-sexualized representation of femaleness that is all we have access to made me so upset. But then I found out the details that he lived with two women and had children with both of them, and after his death the woman continued to live together and raise children and be this amazing, secret family. They actually lived in Rye, New York, which is near where I grew up. It's a very straitlaced little community and that they were living this very progressive, very out there life under everyone's noses really just tickled me. I thought, "I need to find out about this and more about these women."
click to enlarge Liz Sklar (The Amazon) and Jessa Brie Moreno (The Wife) in 'Lasso of Truth' - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Liz Sklar (The Amazon) and Jessa Brie Moreno (The Wife) in 'Lasso of Truth'
In "Lasso of Truth," you portray the women being in love with each other as well as Marston. How much of their relationship in the play was based on fact and how much was your imagination?
What we know is that the three of them lived together for many years. The two women each had two children by Marston. Elizabeth was the wife and Olive was the research assistant who moved in with them. There were three sons and one daughter, and Elizabeth had the daughter and named her Olive. After Marston's death, which was tragically young, they continued to live together for the rest of their lives. Olive lived into the late 80s, and Elizabeth lived to be 100. I just love that. She went to law school in 1915 - this is a tough lady. We don't know the details of their personal private sexual life, but I think the characters are clearly iconic in the play ¬- they're called ¬The Inventor, The Wife, and The Amazon. These are my extrapolations from these details in the real story, but this in no way purports to be factual. It's not a documentary about their lives. I would love to see that documentary - I'm in love with all of them. I often do this - I use real people and events from American history, but it's about looking at them for what it tells the rest of us and what these stories mean to us as a culture. It seems like when you first found out this man had created Wonder Woman it was distressing, but then you came to admire him. Absolutely that was the path of my research. My first response was. "Oh no! Bondage! Over-sexualization! I'm so mad!" (Laughs). As I went into story, I really began to believe in him and to believe he did create the character out of a genuine love of strong women. Yes, he was sexually attracted to strong women, and yes, the comics are full of her tying people up. But we need examples in our culture of beautiful, attractive, strong women, and that is a great thing for little boys to grow up reading about and understanding that women don't have to be weak and passive to be attractive. That's incredibly important, and kudos to Marston! (Laughs) The character in the play of The Girl is a contemporary character, and her path through the information is very much my path, going from "Wait- what!?" to learning and reconsidering and looking at Wonder Woman in context - can she still love Wonder Woman? That struggle is very much represented in the play. Can we continue to embrace Wonder Woman knowing where she comes from, and I think the answer is absolutely yes. We just need to keep her strong and powerful and beautiful. She is beautiful in all senses of the word. She is kind and radiant and peace-loving. Those are some of the reasons Lynda Carter was such genius casting. Do you think people like Marston and these two women who are unconventional help move society forward? I absolutely believe that. Conformity is something I found very constricting and very difficult as a young person, and finding other people who were also struggling against that and finding our own path was a really important part of adulthood. The way gay rights has progressed in this country is such a clear example of people's desires and the people they fall in love with necessitates political action and making the rest of the world catch up. That's the most concrete example I can think of and say, "Yes, it's just people who fall in love, and why does that scare other people?"

First Look: Lasso of Truth at MTC from Marin Theatre Company on Vimeo.

"Lasso of Truth" plays at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley through March 16. Tickets are $20-$53. For more information, call 388-5208 or visit marintheatre.org

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