Women are paper and men are gold, goes the Cambodian adage. If paper gets dirty, you throw it away; if gold loses its shine, it's still a precious metal.
"Women have to be these pure beings, but men can be anything they want," said Claire Christie, who is directing Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance for the Phnom Penh Players.
The play, which opens March 18 at Pannasastra University, involves themes particularly relevant to Cambodian society, she said. Set in Victorian England, it centers on a woman who has hidden herself from the world because she had a child out of wedlock.
In the piece, Wilde both exposes and chastises gender prejudices with his celebrated dialogue.
Considering the protagonist's plight, one character rhetorically asks, "Would a really nice girl, a girl with any nice feelings at all, go away from her home with a man to whom she was not married, and live with him as his wife? No nice girl would."
"That attitude is present in Cambodia," Christie said.
Though the Players didn't choose Woman specifically for its cultural implications, Christie said she quickly realized the piece's local applicability.
"Even today, women in Cambodia lose face if they have sex outside of, or before, marriage," she said. "If someone like an [unmarried] garment worker gets pregnant, she'll get an abortion or have to return to her village in shame."
Christie hopes that, along with local relevance, Woman will have an empowering effect on audiences. Though the protagonist fears society's scorn, the production has an inspiring ending, she said.
"Girls need to understand that they have options," she said. "In the play, if the main character had used a condom, her life could have turned out totally different."