Harvey Fierstein in Be!!a Be!!a. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives.
Prior to seeing Be!!a Be!!a, written and being performed by the incomparable Harvey Fierstein, I really knew nothing about Bella Abzug. I knew her name, I knew she was in politics, but I didn’t know what she did for women.
Fierstein’s one-person show is delightful. A fighter for women this feisty New Yorker was a lawyer, congresswoman and a leader of the women’s movement. We meet her during her unsuccessful political bid for a spot on the U.S. Senate in 1976. She lost by less than one percent to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To date, only 56 women have been elected to the US Senate, with 25 serving now.
We find Bella in the bathroom of the Manhattan’s Summit Hotel waiting for the returns to say yea or nay. She is in red hat and non distinctive brown pants and shirt. Her toes are painted maroon, her fingers are a subtle white. Fierstein is not doing this in drag, but embodies her in mind and spirit. We learn about her advocacy for gay rights, racial justice, opposition to the Vietnam War and President Nixon, but most importantly, how she got women the right to have their own credit cards, in their own names.
Fierstein along with his director Kimberly Senior bring out Abzug’s intelligence, compassion, her fighting spirit, biting wit and concern for man and women kind. In their hands we learn to love Bella and all she stood for.
John Lee Beaty’s set design is rather clever with silhouettes thanks to Cait Hevner’s projections, of couples and individuals walking around the hotel, as you wait for the show to begin. Jill BC Du Boff, has created a contemporary sound scape, that brings you back to that era.
Sadly what is not stressed or even really brought up, was Bella’s fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Women are still are not equal in this country and all that is needed is 1 state. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia have not passed this into law. Why are we not mad as hell and screaming our heads off? Men of all colors have more rights than any woman.
Be!!a Be!!a: Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th St. through December 1st.