Marie Ingrisano Isner
What secret desires do women have? Alice Gerstenberg’s most famous play Overtones gives voice to the suppressed yearnings of women in the early 20th century. Harriet and Margaret are poised, cultured society women. They say the right things, maintain proper etiquette, and do their best to ignore the nagging voices telling them what to do. Those nagging voices are Hetty and Maggie, their alter egos and primitive selves who throw decorum to the wind and desperately try to influence their cultured selves.
Harriet is married to Charles, a wealthy man who gives her a life of comfort. But she is still in love with John, a starving artist that she rejected for money. Her childhood friend Margaret married John and traveled through Europe where he became a successful painter. A coincidental meeting brings the women back together: Harriet sees an opportunity to win John back, and Margaret sees Harriet as a meal ticket. As the cultured women converse, the primitive selves hurl insults and rage against the social constraints imposed upon women. Who will win this battle of wits in a world in which women are always at a loss? Alice Gerstenberg’s Overtones embraces universal themes of identity and relationships, and challenges the audience to recognize the pressure we place on ourselves to play the role that society expects.