Portland Theatre Works
Plays in the Works!
Home About Submissions Donate Contact

Our Mission

Questions for the Artistic Director...
...from Playwrights
...from Actors



The Stutter Orphans

Written by Ginny Foster
Directed by Virginia Sutfin

The Cast

Hank/Gaynor . . . Dan Roehl
Korzybski . . . . . Dan Ruiz
Twin 1 . . . . . . . .Courtney Freed
Gladys . . . . . . . Susan Coromel
Jane . . . . . . . . . Amelia Zirin-Brown
Twin 2 . . . . . . . . Rachel Falk
Wardell . . . . . . . Nathan Markiewicz


A graduate student, Jane, goes to an elderly researcher, Wardell Jackson, to get his approval for her study. While there she witnesses his torture by a seeming speech therapist, Gladys. When she remonstrates and then tries to save him, she learns that Jackson had been part of an evil experiment and that Gladys is an embodiment of his own conscience. when faced with the consequences of Wardell's experiment, and then the future consequnence of her own, Rachel first is disillusioned with Wardell and then with science entirely, and secides to quit her own study.

Ginny Foster's play The Stutter Orphans is taken from the actual events of a 1940's experiment nicknamed "The Monster Study," conducted on orphans thought the University of Iowa. Foster's play strongly suggests that good people can do appalling things if they don't look out. She changes the names of those involved, and fictionalizes some aspects of the story.

The actual facts of the story are as follows: In 1939, a renowned speech pathologist, Dr. Wendell Johnson, with the help of a female graduate student, Mary Tudor, hypothesizes that stuttering can develop in normal speakers by repeatedly drawing attention to the natural hesitations of speech. They design an experiment to test their theory, and are allowed to use orphans living in the state run Iowa Soldierís Orphanís Home near the university, as subjects.

A Note From The Director

At the heart of The Stutter Orphans, at its fundamental core, the play is essentially about conflict. It is not ordinary conflict, however. It is about the conflict between two ethical ways of lifeóone that rations out different values for different people, creatures, and things--and another that states that anything less than perfection is simply not good enough.

The play centers on an actual study that was done in 1938 at the University of Iowa in which Orphaned children were conditioned to stutter. The object of the study was to prove that stuttering was a socialized behavior caused by calling attention to oneís speech. The goal was to help people and if a few orphaned children got hurt along the way, well, youíve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?

On the other side of the spectrum is Hank, a young man with a Masterís degree in Biology who used to be a researcher in a primate center. After coming across a study that was done on monkeys in which electrodes were attached to their penises to shock them into ejaculating, Hank could no longer take part in that research. Hank takes his philosophy from Fyodor Dostoevskyís novel The Brothers Karamazov, in which Ivan returns his ticket to a heaven which is built on the suffering and misery of even one child.

Each of the characters in the play is faced with the dilemma of which ethical model to followóhow each is going to live his or her life. The play serves as a reminder to ourselves that we must look at how each of us behavesóhow we treat those around usóhow we can always learn something about ourselves.

About the Playwright

Portland Playwright Ginny Foster has had plays produced in Alaska and Los Angeles and points in between. She was last year's holder of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center Script Writing Award from the University of Chicago, as well as being the recipient of several fellowships and residencies, including the Elizabeth McPherson Award which gave her a place and time to write this play. She would like to thank her five grown children, who taught her how to write in the middle of mayhem, as well as Richard Kotulski and the Play Workshop Theatre group-- especially the actors who came to a Bikram-temperature play-hothouse where they rose to the challenge of new pages every night, along with director Ginnie Sutfin-- who knows how to create synergy.