Myrna Lamb, Feminist Playwright in an Unwelcoming Era, Dies at 87

A second musical, “Apple Pie,” with music by Nicholas Meyers, received much the same treatment when Papp directed it at the Public in 1976. Feminists were thrilled to see their movement’s messages on prominent display, but critics were unwelcoming.

“Nicholas Meyers’s music is Kurt Weill acrid without being Kurt Weill melodic,” Walter Kerr wrote in The New York Times. And he concluded with this assessment of Ms. Lamb’s abilities as a dramatist: “I am told that Miss Lamb is a feminist playwright. I am willing to believe she is a feminist.”

Such reviews — most of the critics being male, some of them throwing dismissive remarks about feminism into their reviews — served only as more evidence to support the new feminism’s grievances.

Photo

April Shawhan, right, and Peter Haig performing in Myrna Lamb’s feminist musical “Mod Donna” in 1970 at the Public Theater in New York.

Credit
Sy Friedman/Zodiac Photographers

“Feminism was then the cause du jour, and Papp, as usual, had his ear to the zeitgeist,” Anselma Dell’Olio, a film critic and director who worked with Ms. Lamb in those early days, said by email. “But Myrna’s plays were just too out-there for most men.”

Myrna Lila Lamb was born on Aug. 3, 1930, in Newark. Her father, Melvin, worked a number of jobs to try to make ends meet at the start of the Depression, as did her mother, the former Minna Feldman.

Ms. Lamb began working during World War II while still in high school, including, Ms. Hachtman said, in a job at an insurance company that had her supervising adults. Her writing while in school had caught the attention of her teachers, but her father resisted the idea of college. Instead, in 1948, Ms. Lamb married Marvin Epstein, whom she had met at a family wedding.

Ms. Lamb had been writing intermittently while raising two children — her archive, Ms. Hachtman said, includes typed manuscripts, notebooks, even notes scrawled on paper plates — but her entry into the New York theater scene can be credited largely to an incendiary episode of “The David Susskind Show” and an answering service that bailed on its responsibilities.

In 1968 Susskind invited four leaders of second-wave feminism in New York onto his syndicated television talk show: Ms. Dell’Olio; Rosalyn Baxandall, the feminist historian; Kate Millett, who would…

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