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"A Battle of Wits"
The Short Plays by Djuna Barnes

A Passion Play (1918), Kurzy of the Sea (1920), Little Drops of Rain (1922),

The Dove (1926)

Directed by Melissa Attebery; Dramaturgy by Jessica Holman

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On Her Shoulders is pleased to present staged readings of four short plays by Djuna Barnes, directed by Melissa Attebery on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Doors open at 6:30pm. The Play in Context, which situates the script in its historical time and place, kicks off the evening at 6:45pm with an Introduction by dramaturg Jess Holman. Admission is by Donation. Running time, including a post-performance Q&A is approximately 100 minutes. The performance is at The New School, Starr Foundation Hall, University Center, 63 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003. R.S.V.P. to

DJUNA BARNES (1892-1982) was an American novelist, poet, playwright, journalist, and visual artist, as well as an important figure in the Modernist movement. She spent much of her long life in Greenwich Village, where she died a virtual recluse in 1982, but she lived for extended periods in France and England. Deeply influenced by the French symbolists of the late nineteenth century and by the surrealists of the 1930s, she also wrote as a liberated woman, whose unconventional way of life is reflected in the individuality of her literary style. In 1915, Barnes anonymously published The Book of Repulsive Women. Not long after, she moved to Paris and became associated with the writers and artists who made that city the international center of culture during the 1920s and early 1930s. Her Ladies Almanack was privately printed in Paris in 1928, and Ryder, her first novel was published in the U.S. the same year. Barnes' most famous work is Nightwood (1936), a surrealistic story set in Paris and the U.S., dealing with the complex relationships among a group of strangely obsessed characters, most of them homosexuals and lesbians. Barnes wrote little after Nightwood, but her literary talents revived with The Antiphon, a verse-drama originally published in 1958. The plays of Djuna Barnes are some of the most curious works of American drama. Combining the realist settings and Irish speech patterns of the plays of J. M. Synge, an Oscar Wildeian sense of wit, and an often sentimental portrait of down-and-out New Yorkers, Barnes' earliest plays are odd amalgams of styles at war with one another. Few critics of the day could make much sense of her plays—while they all seemed to recognize something interesting was happening on stage, most reviewers were puzzled. Alexander Wolcott quipped of Three from the Earth, "[The play] is enormously interesting, and the greatest indoor sport this week is guessing what it means." Only S. J. Kaufman recognized Barnes's talent: "Miss Barnes' play is so near to being great that we hope that we shall be able to see it again. And we hope it's printed . . . Even now as we write, the power, the simplicity and withal the incalculable depth of it has us enthralled." Kaufman did get his wish. Three from the Earth was reprinted in A Little Review and, subsequently, in both Barnes' A Book and in its republication as A Night Among the Horses in 1929. However, none of her short plays were reprinted until Douglas Messerli collected 16 of them in At the Roots of the Stars: The Short Plays, published in 1995. Barnes was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1961. She was the last surviving member of the first generation of English-language modernists when she died in New York in 1982.

MELISSA ATTEBERY (Director) began in Los Angeles in series television, holding various positions in production and development at companies like Paramount, Viacom and Granada Entertainment before moving to the New York stage, where she directs original people-driven plays for people with an edge. She produced A Celebration of Women in Theatre: Miss Representation, a rousing and thought-provoking evening of film, theatre, photography and discussion at The Players. She has evaluated scripts for the Atlantic Theater Company, New York Theatre Workshop and FringeNYC, and she holds a BA in Dramatic Art and Film Studies from UC Santa Barbara and an MFA in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School. She is an Associate Artistic Director and a resident director at Emerging Artists Theatre, a member of The Actors Studio Playwright/Director Workshop and the League of Professional Theatre Women, and an Associate Member of the SDC. For updates on Melissa’s upcoming projects, please visit:

JESS HOLMAN (Dramaturg) is a New York City-based dramaturg and educator. She has taught courses on theatre history, dramatic literature, and issues of identity and culture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of Maryland - College Park, Montgomery College, and with Arena Stage’s Student Playwrights Project. She has additionally mentored students at New York University, American University, and The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. As a freelance theatre artist, she has worked on projects with dog & pony dc, the Guthrie Theatre, The Inkwell, the Lantern Theatre Company, the Playwrights Center, Shakespeare Theatre Company and others.

ON HER SHOULDERS was founded in 2013 to present rehearsed, staged readings of plays by women from across the spectrum of time, with contemporary dramaturgs contextualizing them for modern audiences. The program seeks to make it impossible to deny or ignore the 1,000-year history and value of women's contribution to the theatrical canon. To date (through Dec 2016), the program has presented 30 plays by 26 writers from the years 1668 to 1966.  OHS is produced by Melissa Attebery and Melody Brooks. Kristin Heckler is Associate Producer.

SCHOOL FOR DRAMA AT THE NEW SCHOOL: The creative home for the future of performing arts. Agile. Engaged. Innovative. Multi-disciplinary. The New School for Drama is home to a dynamic group of young directors, writers, actors, creative technologists, and award-winning faculty. With a core belief in rigorous creativity and collaborative learning, our programs embrace civic awareness across performance disciplines to create work imbued with professionalism, imagination and social context. For more information, please visit


The Play in Context, the dramaturgical and scholarly presentation component to the program, is sponsored in part by the League of Professional Theatre Women, a non-profit organization promoting visibility and increasing opportunities for women in theatre since 1982.


This program is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and in part, with public funds from the NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.