Robin Bradford of Bolinas hardware on women and war

01/23/2014

Robin Bradford, co-owner of Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile, has written a new play that will premiere as a full production in Los Angeles this fall. 

“Low Hanging Fruit” tells the story of four homeless women—all veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—who create a tent encampment on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Based on their shared experience abroad, they trust each other and live by a strict set of rules. But when one of the women befriends a young runaway girl and brings her back to the camp, everything changes. 

Ms. Bradford said she wrote the play to draw attention to the “shameful situation” of huge numbers of female veterans who are living on the streets: the number has more than doubled from 2006 to 2010, as more women return from active duty. 

Difficulties coping with post-traumatic stress disorder are exacerbated by additional burdens women face, particularly sexual trauma. 

To women who have been raped, “they say, ‘Buck up, you’re a soldier,’ or, ‘These are your brothers and sisters,’” Ms. Bradford said. “But these women are never safe, not even in the Green Zone. Unfortunately the military spends lots of effort on recruiting and ad campaigns rather than an enforceable way of keeping women safe.” 

Ms. Bradford drew on her personal background as she wrote: her father was a career naval officer who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Only looking back did she realize that his persistent moodiness and heavy drinking were likely signs he was suffering from his own form of P.T.S.D. “I think I have an affinity because of that,” she said. “I have a lot of empathy for people who served.” 

Ms. Bradford wrote the play over the better part of a year, working through at least one hundred different drafts, she said. She wakes at 4 a.m. and writes through the early morning hours before she heads to work at the hardware store. She said her main problem is not trying to find a time to sit down and write, but a problem of not letting herself stop. 

When Ms. Bradford first heard the play read aloud last November, she had the sensation that “the characters came out of nowhere,” and the play “was writing itself.” 

The production of her play is itself a battle against a gender disparity female playwrights face, she said. Less than 15 percent of plays produced are written by women: the number of plays written by women on Broadway in 2008 (12.6 percent) was actually lower than in 1908 (12.8 percent). Some of her friends have taken to using their initials to avoid
prejudice. 

Ms. Bradford works actively as a resident playwright of the Three Girls’ Theater Company, whose “mission is to put women’s work on stage where it belongs.” The play will be directed by Lee Sankowich, a friend from the Marin Theater Company and director for a two-and-a-half year run of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest off-Broadway in 1971. Including screenplays, the play is something like her 20th completed project, and she thinks it might be her best work yet.