New play about American murderers – and the British women who fall in love with them.
Playing at mac birmingham from 15th-16th June, and blending research with fictional storytelling and peppered with footage from her trip to Texas, Stephanie Ridings explores the strange and uncomfortable phenomenon of British women who fall in love with men on death row.
In the east of Texas, Huntsville is a small city with a population of just under 40,000, 25% of which are behind bars. Situated in downtown Huntsville, the oldest state prison in Texas is nicknamed the Walls Unit, and is also home to the USA’s busiest execution chamber. The inmates of death row are housed just a forty-five minute drive from Huntsville, their final destination.
Meanwhile, in Britain are the women who write to them, put in touch through hundreds of websites where prisoners can advertise for a pen pal, or humanitarian services that try to alleviate the harsh quality of life. Stephanie relates with compassion and a macabre humour how she came to stand outside the Huntsville prison as an inmate was executed and the talks she had with a former prison warden as she tells the fictional story of a researcher who falls in love with an inmate.
The Road to Huntsville raises difficult and pertinent questions about the unconventional love between convicted criminals and the women who become their only link to the outside world. Whilst exploring morally challenging issues of the death penalty and human rights, Stephanie sheds light on to why the most unlikely looking love is not so as strange as it first seems.
Stephanie said “Some women may find themselves in a beautiful, old style courtship in which they are wooed through letters and cards. They have their pen-pals undivided attention and he listens fully to their problems, hopes and desires. After years of failed relationships and disappointment, they finally have someone who understands them. It is too easy to label women who write to men on death row as damaged or suffering from mental health problems. The truth of the matter is far more complex and fascinating.”
Home to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice it is labelled a company town, as most of Huntsville’s residents are employed by the TDCJ.
Stephanie, who lives in Warwick, has recently written Dylan’s Parents for Live Lunch at the Royal Court and Birmingham REP. She was a writer on the Birmingham Rep’s Foundry Programme in 2013. Her first major script Me, Mum & Dusty Springfield was supported by The Lowry (Salford) and toured in the East and West Midlands and nationally. She has been Artist in Residence at Contact Theatre (Manchester) and in 2012 Stephanie was part of Writing West Midlands Room 204, which supports the development of writers in the West Midlands.