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“The Pussy Grabber Plays” puts the stories of Trump’s accusers onstage

More than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual misconduct. A new production shows the aftermath.

Rachel Crooks (left) with cast members from “The Pussy Grabber Plays” on January 14, 2019 at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan
Rachel Crooks (left) with cast members from The Pussy Grabber Plays on January 14, 2019, at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

After Natasha Stoynoff wrote that Donald Trump had forcibly kissed her during a 2005 visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, she says she was approached many times to tell her story again.

She always said no, until she heard from Kate Pines and Sharyn Rothstein. The two wanted to create a play bringing together women who had accused Trump of misconduct, allowing them to tell their own stories.

“Anything I’d been approached to do before was sort of me on my own, and I just didn’t want to be out there on my own,” Stoynoff told me. “If I was with a group, I felt a little bit stronger.”

She decided to work with Pines and Rothstein, along with a team of playwrights and six other women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, to create The Pussy Grabber Plays, which premiered on Monday in New York.

The cast of “The Pussy Grabber Plays” takes the stage with women whose stories inspired the show, on January 14, 2019 at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan
The cast of The Pussy Grabber Plays takes the stage with women whose stories inspired the show, on January 14, 2019, at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

The plays tell the stories of women, including Rachel Crooks, Tasha Dixon, and Jessica Leeds, who haven’t seen the kind of closure that the #MeToo movement has brought for some people. Most of the plays do not depict sexual misconduct by Trump — as a character, he never appears onstage. Instead, they deal with the women’s decisions to come forward, and what happened afterward — for many, jobs or friendships lost, and for some, a sense of catharsis and healing.

More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct — most, like Stoynoff, coming forward in fall 2016, after the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about his ability to grab women “by the pussy” was released. Since then, some have called for Congress to investigate the misconduct allegations against Trump. One, Crooks, ran for state legislature in Ohio, eventually losing to the Republican incumbent.

But so far, Trump has faced essentially no consequences in connection with the many allegations. The stories of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who say they had consensual affairs with Trump, have captured more public attention, in part because of nondisclosure agreements that implicate the president and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in campaign finance violations. (Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison.) And as women and men have come forward to report sexual misconduct by men from producer Harvey Weinstein to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the accusations against Trump have sometimes taken a back seat. President Trump has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

When the #MeToo movement was gaining steam, Pussy Grabber Plays creators Pines and Rothstein realized that although the women who spoke up with allegations against Trump had laid the groundwork for the movement in many ways, “their stories had been forgotten,” Rothstein said.

Zurin Villanueva (left) as Sam Holvey and Ashlie Atkinson as Maureen in “The Pussy Grabber Plays”
Zurin Villanueva (left) as Sam Holvey and Ashlie Atkinson as Maureen.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

Pines and Rothstein aimed to change that by pairing the women with playwrights to craft short plays based on their experiences. On Monday night, a team of actors — including Dixon, who played herself — performed the resulting plays at Joe’s Pub in Lower Manhattan.

The creators said they hope the plays will one day be performed around the country, perhaps reaching people who would not otherwise hear stories like Stoynoff’s. If that happens, audiences will be reminded not just of the allegations against Trump, but of the difficulties women face in speaking up about sexual misconduct, and the consequences that can await them when they do. If The Pussy Grabber Plays has a unifying message, it’s that the decision to come forward is a fraught one that can wreak havoc on a survivor’s life, even as it brings a measure of relief.

“We have nothing to gain from this,” Dixon told me of her decision to speak out about Trump. “You don’t get paid anything — you’re just trying to do the right thing.”

Seven women accused Trump of sexual misconduct. The Pussy Grabber Plays tells the story of what happened next.

The short segments that make up The Pussy Grabber Plays take a variety of forms, from the comedic to the serious.

Jessica Leeds, who says Trump groped her on an airplane in the 1970s, and playwright Bess Wohl collaborated on an absurdist take on Leeds’s 2017 appearance on Megyn Kelly Today, during which Leeds described her experience with Trump and Kelly asked if her decision to come forward was politically motivated. In the play, the Today set is reimagined as a hellscape where vampire bats flap overhead; hailstones “the size of Labradors” fall from the sky; Matt Lauer, a family of chinchillas, and a giant Oreo cookie lurk in the wings; and “the only way out is through.”

In a more somber segment, actress Clea Alsip plays Karena Virginia, a yoga instructor who says Trump grabbed her breast in 1998 as she waited for a car service in New York — “he held it like you might pick up a box of Tic Tacs,” Alsip says in the play. Isabel Keating plays her mother, a proper Englishwoman who learned from her own mother never to speak up or make trouble — “who likes a woman who’s coarse or loud?” Together, the two begin to break down the layers of social conditioning that keep them from speaking up about their lives. “It’s not fair that that’s what you were taught,” Virginia tells her mother.

Clea Alsip as Karena Virginia and Isabel Keating as her mother in “The Pussy Grabber Plays”
Clea Alsip as Karena Virginia and Isabel Keating as her mother.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

Most of the women, like Virginia, were portrayed by actresses in their plays. An exception was Tasha Dixon, who played herself in “Five Beauty Queens Walk Into a Bar,” written by Julia Brownell. Dixon, an actress and former Miss Arizona, says that when she was a Miss USA contestant in 2001, Trump came backstage while she and other young women were changing.

“He just came strolling right in,” she told CBSLA in 2016. “Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked.”

Dixon told me that after she came forward, she got angry emails from people who hadn’t really listened to her story. Some assumed that she was accusing Trump of sexual assault, though she never did, and said things like, “how can you say he touched you,” Dixon said.

“It’s really disheartening to realize people aren’t even listening to what you have to say,” she said.

Tasha Dixon (left) plays herself in “The Pussy Grabber Plays”
Tasha Dixon (left) plays herself.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

“Five Beauty Queens Walk Into a Bar” takes a somewhat lighthearted view of Dixon’s experience, as Dixon chats during the 2016 presidential campaign with four other former Miss USA contestants who are trying to decide whether they should speak out about Trump too. After she came forward, Dixon tells them, reporters gathered outside her door: “It was like Notting Hill, but scary.”

Understandably, the others are concerned about what will happen if they speak publicly. The former Miss Michigan worries about how the decision might impact her at work. The former Miss Maine, who is gay, says she’s “not sure I want Fox News to brand me a ‘lesbian beauty queen.’”

“Five Beauty Queens Walk Into a Bar” ends on a note of foreboding. “He can’t win, right?” Dixon asks.

“He might, though,” the former Miss Michigan replies.

The first high-profile #MeToo-inspired projects were by men. But now women are adding their voices.

The Pussy Grabber Plays is one of many #MeToo-inspired works of art proposed or announced in recent months. Several of the most high-profile announcements, however, have been by men.

Producer Ryan Murphy, for instance, told the New Yorker last year that he wants to create a Black Mirror-style anthology show based on #MeToo, called Consent, in which “every episode would explore a different story, starting with an insidery account of the Weinstein Company.” Director Brian de Palma, meanwhile, told the French publication Le Parisien that he was at work on a film inspired by the allegations against Weinstein.

“It will be a horror movie, with a sexual aggressor,” he said.

These proposals have inspired some criticism. “If Murphy is actually interested in dealing with the horrors of sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and rape, instead of using those stories for his own profit, perhaps he should start by putting in the hard work to help stop the very real systemic horrors that are still happening to women and men every single day,” wrote Emily Kirkpatrick at i-D.

The prospect of powerful Hollywood men making money from stories of other powerful Hollywood men’s misconduct doesn’t feel much like the change many in the entertainment industry, and elsewhere, have been demanding. But increasingly, women are coming forward with projects that deal with sexual misconduct, like a planned #MeToo docuseries spearheaded by Jennifer Lawrence and former E! anchor Catt Sadler.

The Pussy Grabber Plays is part of that emerging tradition, with the added distinction that many of the women involved actually have the experience of coming forward with allegations of misconduct by a powerful man. “No one can know a story as well as someone who’s actually gone through it,” Dixon said.

Pines and Rothstein hope their play benefits survivors around the country and even the world, they said. To that end, they’re donating the proceeds from Monday night’s event to the New York Women’s Foundation Fund for the #MeToo Movement and Allies, which provides grants to organizations working against sexual violence, with a focus on activists of color.

Rachel Crooks (left) with the cast of “Rachels,” part of “The Pussy Grabber Plays” inspired by her experiences
Rachel Crooks (left) with the cast of “Rachels,” a segment of The Pussy Grabber Plays inspired by her experiences.
Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

They have also made the play available royalty-free and hope it will be performed widely. They were inspired by projects like The Vagina Monologues and the Every 28 Hours Plays, short plays that address police violence and the contemporary civil rights movement, they said. They have already received a number of requests from others who want to put on a production of The Pussy Grabber Plays, they said.

Monday night, however, was unique in that six of the seven women whose stories were featured were in the audience for the show. It was a chance for the audience to applaud them, not just their stories — at the end of each play, the cast introduced the woman who inspired it. Some of the women were meeting each other that night for the first time, Stoynoff said. At the curtain call, some embraced onstage.

“It was surreal to see someone play me,” Stoynoff told me after the show. Asked what she thought Trump’s reaction might be to the production, she said, “he likes people who are tough, so I hope he appreciates what I wrote.”

The Pussy Grabber Plays ended on a note of defiance. In “The Interview,” written by Stoynoff and playwright Melissa Li, actress Lora Lee Gayer related Stoynoff’s experience with Trump in song. The chorus: “Fuck you! Fuck you!” She closed the show with both middle fingers raised.