Amy Merrill, playwright of ARDENT GIRLS, has an upcoming reading of her play on February 22. The play is about Jane Addams, the sisterhood at Hull House and Addams’ 1896 encounter with Leo Tolstoy. She was willing to talk to me about her project, her work and her passion for Jane Addams.
Merrill was inspired to write her play once she read about Jane Addams’ encounter with Leo Tolstoy. She read an excerpt from the “Second Twenty Years at Hull House,” where Addams traveled to Russia and Tolstoy could not stop staring at her sleeves. Merrill explained that this encounter gave Addams a lot to think about because Addams admired Tolstoy. But the experience gave Merrill “leeway to sort of come up with my own idea about what happened and how she felt about it and how the impact of the visit had on the rest of her life.”
In her play, Merrill depicts her idea of the Addams-Tolstoy encounter. She’s always been attracted to encounters by different types of people. Addams and Tolstoy are very idealistic, high-minded people, but they’re both different types of people. “It’s also fun to write the scene because it takes place in Russia at the Tolstoy Estate whereas most of the place takes place in Chicago. So it’s kind of fun to sort of transport everybody to Russia. So it’s the improbable, real-life encounter with Leo Tolstoy.”
Not only Tolstoy and Addams, but Merrill also paints the picture of Florence Kelley and Mary Rozet-Smith competing for Addams’ attention. She explains the two as an “effective duo” with Florence Kelley being very passionate with an interesting background and Jane Addams as a moderator. Mary Rozet-Smith was fun for Merrill because she’s not as flamboyant as the other women are, and writing all three of them in “ARDENT GIRLS.”
Addams was a “fighter for people having better lives and it’s inspiring.” With all of the sexual harassment cases and accusations coming out today, it’s important to remember Addams’ legacy. Amy Merrill admires Addams work and legacy and truly enjoyed writing a play about her. “To know Jane is to love her.” People have been thinking about her legacy and wish that she could be with us today.
For those in the Waltham, MA area, the public reading of “ARDENT GIRLS” will be held at the Merrick Theatre (Spingold Building) on February 22 at 7:30 pm at Brandeis University, Waltham, M.A.