A Two Decade Old Mystery:
Who is Jane Martin?
It is a mystery that has confounded the theatre community for over two decades. Who is Jane Martin? She has produced over ten full length plays, six one-acts, and numerous shorts. She has been nominated for the Pulitzer prize, and won the American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award twice. Yet, she has not made one public appearance. There are no interviews. No pictures. No sightings. Nothing. She has been called "America's best known unknown playwright." In her absence, retired Actors Theatre of Louisville artistic director Jon Jory has accepted her awards and served as her spokesman. It is a relationship that has dogged him since Jane Martin's hit Talking With... premiered at his theater's Humana Festival in 1981. Countless theatrical sleuths have tried to connect the dots, and they all seem to lead to Jory himself.
"I'm not going to talk about that," is Jory's usual response when asked about the subject. He has been adamant in his denial despite a mountain of circumstantial evidence that suggests the contrary.
Jory claims that Jane Martin is a Kentucky native who wishes to remain anonymous. "Whoever writes these plays feels that they would be unable to write them if (their identity) was made public knowledge." However, several facts have led critics and journalists to suspect that there is more to the story than Jory is telling. Not only have almost all her plays premiered at Jory's theater, The Actors Theatre of Louisville, but almost all of them have also been directed by him. Some have even speculated that the gender issues in plays like Keely and Du and Mr Bundywhich deal with abortion and child molestation respectivelysuggests that Jane Martin is really a collaboration between Jory and his wife, Marcia Dixey. When questioned about these suspicions, Jory remains elusive.
However, many critics consider Jane Martin's latest play Anton in Show Business proof positive that she is indeed Jon Jory. The satire about three actresses trying to mount a doomed production of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters skewers every aspect of the art and business of contemporary theatre. It showcases all the character types that comprise the contemporary theatre: the egotistical and machiavellian starlet, the eager community actress, the down on her luck off-off Broadway actress, the over educated artistic director with degrees from Harvard and Yale, the eccentric guest director, the cynical sponsor with ties to the tobacco industry, and a disgruntled audience member. The lives of these characters interweave to paint a portrait of contemporary theatre in danger of being torn apart by the myriad of economic, artistic, and personal forces that sustain its existence.
It is a play that could have only been written by someone of Jory's experience. A child of Hollywood character actorshis father played Jonas Wilkerson, the scheming overseer in Gone With the WindJory received his Actor's Equity card when most kids were learning how to ride a bicycle. He was at the forefront of the regional theatre movement of the 1960's, which began with the opening of the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in 1963, and showed that not all theatre talent was centralized in New York City and Los Angeles. Jory served as artistic director of the Long Wharf theatre from 1965-66, and was terminated once the fledging theater hit rough financial waters. In 1969, he took over the helm of The Actors Theatre of Louisville, a small regional theatre just five years old, and nurtured it into one of the top theatres in the country. This was largely do to the Humana Festival of New American Plays, which Jory founded in 1976. It has since produced a number of outstanding plays including The Gin Game (1978) Crimes of the Heart (1981), and Dinner with Friends (1998), not to mention almost everything Jane Martin has ever written. Jory retired from ATL in 2000, the season that Anton in Show Business premiered.
Asked if Jane Martin's identity will be revealed after her death, Jory has stated with a laugh, "That's a press conference no one will come to. By the time I die, no one will care anyway."