Everything changes, but nothing is different. History has proved it.
One lively example is a woman named Mary Frith, who rampaged through London at the beginning of the 17th century. She ran houses of prostitution and was a fence for her many associates in the London underworld. That didn't get her into much trouble.
The problem was that she broke the Tudor sumptuary laws, which regulated matters of food and dress, according to religious or moral grounds. She dressed like a man.
Even worse, she had the audacity to appear on the stage of London's Fortune Theatre in male attire, during a period when women were not allowed on stage. The female characters were played by men, usually teenage boys.
Frith was known throughout London as Moll Cutpurse. And contemporary playwrights Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton immortalized her in their play "The Roaring Girl," another of Frith's nicknames.
In the course of completing his PhD in English Renaissance literature at Claremont Graduate School, playwright Joseph Puterbaugh, who happens to be a member of North Hollywood's Road Theatre Company and the Golden West Playwrights Workshop, came across the frontispiece of the Dekker-Middleton play and was inspired.
His love of the language of that period, and his discovery of the legend of Moll Cutpurse, led him to write his own version of "The Roaring Girl," which is being staged at the Road Theatre.
Although some sections of the original play are used in Puterbaugh's play-within-a-play, he takes a new look at the woman, and at the message her story had for her day, and for our own.
"It's the issue of conformity, people who step outside of what society believes is acceptable," Puterbaugh said. "Those characters are interesting to me--who sort of break boundaries, move over edges and margins, and what price they pay if they do."
The issues contained in the play are current, said director Mark Handler. "It's about a woman who dares to step over the lines of convention, to do things she's not allowed to do, and takes the heat for it," he said. "It's very contemporary."
Handler, remembered for an impressive staging of "The Threepenny Opera" at Friends and Artists Theatre Ensemble a few years ago, compares the ideas in "The Roaring Girl" to those in the Kurt Weill piece.
"At least in that it is a look at that colorful underworld of the time," he said. "So you see the cycle of corruption going back 400 years. And we see the same thing in our time. It's interesting that the original 'Roaring Girl' was making a statement that we should be more tolerant of those changes, and people who cross those kinds of boundaries."
Puterbaugh loves the language of that time and has written his play in that style. And the language, said Handler, is one of the things that attracted him to the play when he read it.
Dekker and Middleton's play argued against the mores of their time, which condemned Moll Cutpurse. Puterbaugh's new version, which intertwines Moll's story with the story of the 17th-century playwrights' writing and staging of her saga, argues as strongly against those same conventions, some of which seem to have followed us into our own time.
* "The Roaring Girl," Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. Ends Dec. 15. $15. (818) 761-8838.
Getting Centered: "The Roaring Girl" is not the only thing going on at the Road Theatre's home site at Lankershim Arts Center.
The building houses a consortium involved in different aspects of the arts. Collectively, they are in the midst of their second annual "Get Centered" Fall Arts Festival and Membership Drive.
Besides the Road, the center is home to the Martin Dancers, Synthaxis Theatre Company and the Los Angeles Printmaking Society.
Taylor Gilbert, associate artistic director of the Road, says the festival's purposes, beyond fund-raising, are to make more people aware of the center and to further the efforts of the outreach projects of consortium members.
"We're offering two months of a lot of free activities throughout October and November," Gilbert says. "Basically, with our membership, we're trying to give people an opportunity to see theater at discounted rates, above and beyond our normal discounts for seniors and students, and things of that nature. It gives them an opportunity to purchase less expensive tickets through the year. But everything in this festival is free to the public."
* For information on Lankershim Arts Center's "Get Centered" activities, contact the Road Theatre at (818) 761-8838, Martin Dancers at (818) 752-2616, Synthaxis Theatre Company at (818) 752-2253 or the Los Angeles Printmaking Society at (818) 752-2682.
The Patter of Little Feet: Actor-director Ted Lange says that his project, "Little Footsteps," opening this weekend at Two Roads Theatre in Studio City, may be partially about playwright Ted Tally's marriage and the effect that offspring have on a relationship.