The Hard Sell

26. October, 2012 Theater 2 comments

Gender equality in the business world is a vitally important, touchy subject that warrants a lot of discussion and exploration and rectifying, onstage and off. Jennifer Wilson’s And That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of is a play about that topic, and that at least is a good thing. The one-hour show is a first-person account of Wilson’s attempt to get ahead in the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of venture capital in the late 1980s. An independent production under the aegis of Diaspora Productions, LLC, it’s directed by Jennifer Welch, producing artistic director of Tides Theatre, a fledgling theater company that’s taking over the space that SF Playhouse just moved out of.

Chloe Bronzan, Sally Dana, and Amber Crane in And That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of. Photo by Michael David Rose Photography.

Alicia Griffiths’s set couldn’t be simpler—just a cluttered desk in one corner  of the black-walled stage, and a screen on which is projected Barbara Grandvoinet’s video slideshow, starting with an adorable picture of the playwright as a little girl in the 1950s while female-fronted ’80s hits play before the show. (The hits keep coming in Jon Bernson’s sound design for the play itself, including tunes by Abba, Olivia Newton-John, the B-52’s, Big Brother and the Holding Company, even Alice in Wonderland.)

The show starts with a slide of snowy Himalayan peaks and the sound of wind chimes. “I know, not the typical vaycay,” Chloe Bronzan says as a breezy woman in business attire, explaining that she got dragged along in this “adventure travel” jaunt by her fella. People who say “vaycay” automatically set my teeth on edge, but it’s probably not meant to sound as condescending as it does. (A mountain! In India! What am I, Vasco da Gama?) This is, after all, our protagonist, and after that awkward first impression we even grow to like her.

Actually, everybody in the play is our protagonist. Bronzan, Sally Dana, and Amber Crane all play the same person, who also happens to be the playwright, Jennifer Wilson. They’re given the names Jen, Jennifer, and Jenny in the program, but there’s no line dividing them as characters. It’s not like one of them represents a younger Jennifer and one an older, or like they represent different sides of her personality. They’re all just her, telling the same story in more or less the same persona, which makes the whole production feel…well, samey. There are differences in the way each actor plays her, but it’s hard to tell if that’s anything in the script or just differences in the type and style of the actor. All three give strong, compelling performances: Crane is smiley, outgoing and eager to please; Bronzan is more haunted and pensive; and Dana is harder-edged and forceful. They all wear simple business outfits in the same basic palette of red, black and white.

The trio takes turns recounting Wilson’s first-person story, with each of them stepping in from time to time to play the role of whoever Jennifer’s trying to pitch her project to. The narrative often drifts from personal tale to lecture, holding forth about one topic or another that affected her quest, from boomer women entering the workplace to case studies of successful women-launched businesses to the different ways that men and women talk about rape. There’s even a long aside about women’s peeing habits in public restrooms to illustrate how inconsiderate and backstabbing women can be to each other. (Men’s restroom habits are much, much worse, but at least they have the advantage of not having to sit down on the soggy toilet seats as often.) Between this structure and the omnipresent slides, the effect is that the whole endeavor feels less like a play than a lively PowerPoint presentation.

The collective Jennifer talks about feeling isolated invisible at a venture capital conference, automatically dismissed as clearly not the “aggressive, hard-hitting macho bastards” people felt they needed and about casting about for the big idea that would help her make her mark on her own. Then it hits her—why not start a venture capital firm that invests only in companies started by brilliant women? She calls it Sky Venture Capital, explaining, “You know what the Chinese say: ‘Women hold up half the sky.’” Now all she needs is actual investors to put up the money for this (and presumably amazing new women-run companies to put that money into, but that’s not the side of things she’s tackling right now). That turns out to be much akin to hitting her head against a wall over and over. She tries the heads of women-run business, women-targeted business, women’s organizations, even male businessmen with daughters whom they’d presumably like to see succeed, but everyone seems to have reasons to turn her down. Discouragingly, she finds that the successful women entrepreneurs she takes inspiration from all got started with their own money, or their husbands’ or their parents’. No one took a chance on them either.

“If I can turn people on to my story, if I can make them want to be a part of that story, the money will follow,” Crane’s Jenny says. But it’s very hard to make venture capital sound interesting in a theatrical context, much less sympathetic in the current economic climate. Wilson and the cast certainly help persuade anyone who needs persuading that it’s horribly screwed up that women are expected to become more manly then the men in order to climb up the corporate ladder and are routinely shamed, undermined, and made to feel less than their peers. Some of the encounters she relates are funny and others are infuriating, but they’re not scenes so much as anecdotes. By the standards of a business pitch, it’s refreshingly entertaining and somewhat persuasive, but it doesn’t make much of a case for itself as theater.

And That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of
Through November 18
Diaspora Productions
Tides Theatre
533 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA

Show #99 of 2012, attended October 21



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  1. 11 / 1 / 2012 11:48 pm

    Any chance we can get this play back in SF or Silicon Valley soon? Am just now hearing about it — would love to get more publicity for it and more audience.


    • Jennifer Wilson

      11 / 7 / 2012 3:09 pm

      Gwen, thanks for your interest in “And That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.” We’re analyzing our options regarding the future of the play and Silicon Valley is definitely in the mix. My email address is We’ll try to keep in touch with you as things develop.





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