ANNETTE BENING to Star in Reading of New Play, “GRISWOLD” in NYC!

Mark your calendars! The Off-Broadway powerhouse Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company and Broadway’s A is For proudly announce a benefit on Friday, November 11, 2022, at Manhattan’s historic The Cooper Union, featuring a reading of the new play Griswold, starring four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening. Bening will bring to life the extraordinary story of activist Estelle Griswold in a play by Angela J. Davis, winner of Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company’s 2022 New Works Award. Griswold explores the legacy of a woman who fought relentlessly for the 1965 law establishing the constitutional right to privacy – a core concept protecting Americans against government interference in matters of gender, sexuality, and reproductive freedom.  It would be a legacy that would pave the way for many of the freedoms we enjoy today… and, as we have recently learned the hard way, are fighting to KEEP to this very day.

Joseph W. Rodriguez, Producing Artistic Director of Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company, took the time to speak to Lavender After Dark about the upcoming event, the legacy of Griswold’s titular character, and much more…

LAD: Thank you so much for speaking with me, Joseph!  So, first off, I have to ask: What was it like for Playhouse Creatures to get, shall we say, “back to normal” after the pandemic, when live theater was put on hold for a while? 
JR: Actually, in some weird ways it was a boon to us in that we were able to reconfigure and to add a lot of support via virtual sources. We grew the audience through that.  We had our first full production in September and October at the Ancram Opera House in upstate New York.  So yeah, there was a little bit of lag time, but we continued to work through that. Even with our community service, we were able to do that virtually. So maybe it slowed us down, but it didn’t stop us!

LAD: That’s great! I know that the lockdown actually gave a lot of people the chance to really get their creative juices flowing again.  It also introduced many people to the concept of virtual theater for the first time.  I mean, who would have ever even imagined something like that ever happening? 

JR: Yes!  It also allowed us to connect with old friends and collaborators, and to create new content– both virtually and now in person again. We did a year-long project with Emily Mann, presenting five of her plays.  It’s been remarkable.  She is actually introducing Griswold on Friday’s event

LAD: That’s wonderful.  So, what made The Playhouse Creatures choose Griswold to showcase?   

JR: We’ve had an annual New Works Festival since 2017. In 2022, Angela J. Davis, who wrote Griswold, was a finalist on a couple of iterations of that. And then, she was a Winner in 2021. Her play is about the historic figure Estelle Griswold, who was the driving force behind the 1965 Supreme Court case that overturned the Connecticut law outlawing contraception. This was really important. Justice Douglas, who wrote the majority opinion, created the substantive due process that there was no explicit protection for “privacy” in the Constitution.  That word is never mentioned. But they created it based on the decision that: If you don’t have privacy to sexual rights, then what kind of autonomy do you actually have? And all of these subsequent decisions, whether Obergefell v. Hodges, Lawrence v. Texas, Roe v. Wade… All of these were underpinned by Griswold v. Connecticut.  So, the overturning of Roe in late June by the Court, and Clarence Thomas’ concurrence where he explicitly named Griswold as a case that “we must revisit” because the decision making was “wrong”, really puts all of these subsequent rights in danger– whether they be same-sex marriage, gay rights, transgender rights, contraception rights… They’re all at risk with this Court. And that’s why I think the play is really powerful and interesting.  It’s a one act play, about 70 minutes long… but it is so topical right now.  It was ironic that we decided to do it, because we chose it back in April prior to the overturning.  But it seems even more pressing in this moment that we need to protect those rights right now. And God knows what the world will look like on Friday after the election on Tuesday!  It’s either gonna be a celebration, or a further call to arms.  One of the beneficiaries is the Pink House Fund, which was formally the Jackson Women’s Health Center. They were the plaintiff in the case that overturned the Roe v Wade decision. So, they are at the epicenter of this battle. The Executive Director is coming from Las Cruces, New Mexico to speak during the talkback.  They are also one of our beneficiaries.  A is For, which Martha Plimpton and Kelly Overbey started, will be another beneficiary. And Annette Bening, who is a huge supporter of these issues, will grace us with her remarkable presence and will be part of this reading.  But wait, there’s more!  We’re doing it in this incredibly historic venue: The Great Hall at Cooper Union where Lincoln launched his campaign for the presidency in 1859.  That really changed the course of our nation. So, I feel we’re like at one of those inflection points, and that’s why I feel like this event has so much importance.  It’s not just another fundraiser and not just another reading!

LAD: Wow!  That’s great to hear.  It seems astonishing that the rights which so many Americans take for granted are still being fought for decades later.  The overturning of Roe v. Wade really caught a lot of people by surprise, and Obergefell v. Hodges is still pretty recent history.  Some older Americans (like me!) may even remember Lawrence v. Texas.  But I for one absolutely did NOT know about Griswold v. Connecticut.  

JR: Exactly. And that was what all those subsequent cases were really underpinned by: If you have an essential fundamental right to privacy, then all these other things can flow freely from that. But if you take that away– and Thomas has referred that we need to rethink that decision– then those other things are in jeopardy.  The irony that this historical figure, Estelle Griswold– who essentially engineered her own arrest to get this case to the court– is sort of a forgotten figure who’s had so much impact on so many people. At this moment, it’s incredibly important for her story to be told.  Even if the election turns out positively, there will still be battles to fight.  For example: The Pink House Fund, which was formerly the Jackson Women’s Health Center, was the only functioning women’s health center/abortion clinic in Mississippi. And when Roe was overturned, they had shut down. So, all those women– all those people that needed not only reproductive rights, but women’s healthcare– had no place to go. But instead of shutting down, they’ve reopened in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  It is close to the Texas border, where they can offer services to women who are now extremely challenged and denied those rights in Texas so they can drive across the border.

LAD: Oh wow!

JR:  But it’s gonna be this state-by-state fight. And if, if Congress is lost… I mean, the one thing about the Republicans is that they have not been furtive about their ambitions. They’re gonna have a national abortion ban. They’re going to go after transgender rights. They’re gonna go after LGBTQ+ rights. They’re going after these things head on. They’re not being secretive about it, and it’s incumbent upon us to push back against that.  After the reading of Griswold, there will be a talkback which will include Emily Mann, representatives from Pink House Fund and A is For, and Annette Bening.  We will talk about how the intersection of art and advocacy can really have an impact on public policy. So that’s exciting.

LAD: Oh, yeah. Art and advocacy really do go hand in hand.  Art– whether it is TV, or cinema, or theater– can be a reflection of society, but it works both ways: It can also help to SHAPE and even CHANGE shape our way of thinking.  Sometimes that has a way that is a way of speaking to people that goes beyond just what they might read in the newspaper. So, that’s a wonderful thing.

JR: Absolutely. And so many people don’t wanna read a paper, they don’t wanna read a treatise, they don’t wanna be lectured to… but they’ll go watch a player or see a movie. And if that story can be told through that platform, then in many ways it can be more impactful and transitional for people because it will take them into an experience that they’re not familiar with. 

LAD: Agreed!  So, how did the phenomenal Annette Bening get involved with this event?

JR: Through our friendship with Kelly Overbey and Martha Plimpton at A is For, which is one of our beneficiaries. They are an arts organization that is really dedicated to destigmatizing and providing access for abortion. In 2021, they had an annual play festival. Griswold, which Angela J. Davis wrote, was their winner. When we chose her play for 2022, I thought, “Well, let’s link up and make this a bigger event!” We reached out to my creative producers and made some Hail Mary tosses to several A-listers… but I never imagined that Annette Bening would say yes!  So, so it really was a surprise and an incredible blessing.  She’s been so generous with her time and with her commitment to advocacy and activism.  She is really excited about the intersection of all of these issues that Griswold talks about. It is such an interesting story that most people don’t know about. Estelle Griswold was this kind of frumpy woman who ran Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, and then engineered her own arrest that led to this epic historical Supreme Court decision that underpinned all of the subsequent rights that followed.

LAD: As you mentioned, the timing couldn’t be more perfect!

JR: Yes!  it is perfect, with the overturning of Roe and especially with Thomas specifically mentioning the Griswold case in his concurrence.  Oh, and there’s something else: She cannot be there on Friday night in person, but our dear friend Nadine Strosson, who was the President of the ACLU for 19 years, and who had worked with the actual attorneys on that case, will be sending out a video with a little backstory and shoutout to us. So, we’ll have more media coming out. 

LAD: That sounds exciting!

JR: That’s it in a nutshell. Jed!

LAD: Thank you so much for speaking with me, Joseph! 

A benefit reading of the play Griswold by Angela J. Davis, starring Annette Bening, will be presented at The Cooper Union, 7 East 7th Street, NYC 10003, at 7PM on November 11, 2022. To purchase tickets for this event, visit  The event will also feature musical entertainment, surprise guests, door prizes, and a talkback after the reading, moderated by Erica Stevens Abbitt, PCTC’s Associate Artistic Director.  Ticket sales from this reading will support the ongoing mission of A is For to de-stigmatize abortion and enhance access to reproductive services. Proceeds will also benefit the Pink House Fund, formerly the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which was forced to close when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year. The clinic is now re-opening in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with the aim of providing abortion care to women from all over the United States.  The reading is directed by Tatiana Pandiani.  Allison Bressi is Executive Producer, Amy Sapp is Associate Producer, and B. Rafidi is the Production Coordinator for the event. The artwork is by Kelly Schmidt, Digital Producer, Content & Media for PCTC. 

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