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He Says: Gloria: A Life Projected on to the Stage Talking Circle

He Says: Gloria: A Life Projected on to the Stage Talking Circle

Rising out of the pages of Ms. and onto the Daryl Roth Theatre talking circle, Gloria: A Life, a new play by Emily Mann (Having Our Say) stands strong and has a thoughtful and compelling story to tell.  It’s a staged biography that asks us to look out at each other and find shared power. Made flesh and bones by the strong and forceful portrayal by Christine Lahti (Broadway’s God of Carnage) of the iconic woman, Gloria Steinem starts her history lesson in the 1950’s when she proclaims, quite honestly, that she didn’t try hard enough, nor know enough, but the self-described hope-aholic, dances as fast as she can forward to the icon figure that she is today, sitting around intellectual campfires, listening to stories, knowing that she’s not crazy to believe. Directed with force and purpose by Diane Paulus (A.R.T.’s Jagged Little Pill, Broadway’s Waitress), Gloria drives back to her beginning, and walks us through from faux-Playboy bunny writer to her most recent days of star-studded activism and personal iconic status symbol of the feminist movement in a pair of aviator glasses for protection. “The bigger the better. (Beat.) The hair, too. But I don’t want anything to come between us tonight. (She takes off her glasses.) Because here’s the good news—We’re all in this room together and not alone on our computers or cell phones!

Powerfully written in celebrity documentary style structure, Gloria is glad to show her flaws and fears as badges of honor and lessons learned. The biggest sin, she says, is sitting on your ass, and this motto is supported on all sides by the cast that included; Joanna Glushak (Broadway’s War Paint), Fedna Jacquet (Public’s Ain’t No Mo), Francesca Fernandez McKenzie (Soho Rep’s Lily’s Revenge), Patrena Murray (Public/Delacorte’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), DeLanna Studi (Primary Stages’ Informed Consent), and Liz Wisan (TFANA’s Winter’s Tale) as almost every strong influence and powerful co-contributor to the women’s movement, and many that tried to stand in her way. And even though, as the playwright states, “if you Google Second Wave Feminism—there’s not one reference on the Wikipedia page to a black feminist.”

“It does not include”

“Dorothy Pitman Hughes,”

“Flo Kennedy,”

“Pauli Murray,”

“Aileen Hernandez,”

“Fannie Lou Hamer,”

“Shirley Chisholm,”

“Audre Lorde,”

“Eleanor Holmes Norton,”

“Margaret Sloan,”

“Barbara Smith,”

“Alice Walker….and we could go on and on and on.”

Gloria
The cast of GLORIA: A Life. Photo © Joan Marcus.

With the audience sitting in a fire side circle surrounding a warm and cozy liberation of rugs, cushions, and blocks, courtesy of scenic designer Amy Rubin (Signature’s Thom Pain), with pretty obvious period costumes by Jessica Jahn (Cherry Lane’s One Night), straight-forward lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (KPOP), flickering sound design by Robert Kaplowitz (Broadway’s Fela!) and Andrea Allmond, the strong cast of capable and dedicated performers guide us through her historic enlightenment. Gloria flips through the historical imagery and testimonies like we are scanning a Ms Magazine filled to the brim with facts and interviews, reading the headlines and occasionally stopping and studying the feminist facts, reading about both the successes and failures. One great learning moment is the naming of the magazine Ms. a word that means “the exact parallel to Mr‘, a more powerful proclamation than I ever truly knew. With some fantastic period photo and video work projected on the walls by designer Elaine J. McCarthy (Broadway’s Wicked), especially all those magazine covers, the piece feels extremely relevant and particularly educational, particularly the moments of letter readings and testimonials on abortion and letters to the editor.

Gloria
(L-R) Joanna Glushak, Christine Lahti, Fedna Jacquet and Francesca Fernandez McKenzie. Photo © Joan Marcus.

Intellectually invigorated throughout, I sometimes found myself emotionally put-off struggling to find depth within its historic backdrop. I wanted Mann, Lahti, and company to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and stop trying to inform and teach but engage within the heart and pain of the matter. There was attempts with the mother/daughter interactions, and although symbolically they had great meaning, the writing failed to give it a real earthbound feel to their complicated dynamic, floating on the surface of staged biography moments rather than the deeper painful conflict that is at the heart of the matter.

Gloria
Joanna Glushak and Christine Lahti. Photo © Joan Marcus.

The taped segments, especially the archival videos of historic speeches are moving, but made me ache a bit for at least one actual video of the real Steinem speaking.  Lahti does a fabulous job bringing the woman to life (to the point where audience members in part two referred to her as if she was actually Gloria), but when the videographer implanted a cutout rectangle of Lahti responding to the famous interview on Larry King Live, it looked oddly fake (in comparison to all the others) and distracting from the internalized message.  In my humble opinion, it was a perfect moment to give us a bit of the real Steinem speaking without detracting from Lahti’s magnanimous performance.  The pictures of her though, standing proudly alongside such trailblazers as Flo Kennedy and Bella Abzug, played joyfully by Glushak, strengthened the connection, and made Gloria: A Life a fitting and full tribute piece worthy of our attention and our praise. Especially in this day and age when resisting and action is required more than ever. That became even more detailed and dynamic during part II, the talking circle when the audience is asked to join in with the conversation. It’s hard to describe, as the stories told the night I went all resonated with more guts and power, registering sometimes more strongly than the actual play and its staging.

Gloria
Christine Lahti as Gloria Steinem in GLORIA: A Life by Emily Mann, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Photo © Joan Marcus.

My thoughts on that communal space reverberated, and I had a hard time thinking of something that I, a gay, card-carrying status Native American Mohawk/Iroquois Canadian male could offer into the mix, although I was made proud by the beautiful salute to the Cherokee and the Iroquois Confederacy: “I hope some of you know about Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee nation. In a just country, Wilma would have been President.” It paralleled in many ways the LGBTQ movement that I personally feel activated by in the same profound way as many of the women in the audience and in the cast.  One of the more beautiful moments presented was the powerful coming together of all women for that historic 1977 women’s conference, where viewpoints and agendas from all walks of life had their say.  ”

GLORIA: “In the end, Coretta Scott King comes forward with her bodyguard—a reminder of past tragedies and present danger.”

CORETTA: “Let this message go forth from Houston and spread all over this land. There is a new force, a new understanding, a new sisterhood against all injustice that has been born here. We will not be divided again.

I ask the delegates— to accept the entire Minority Women’s Plank—By acclamation.

It reminded me of an interview with the compelling Lea DeLaria, an American comedian and actress renown for her outspoken political-ness, especially around the idea of the LGBTQ community. She rightly questions the inclusiveness of what all those letters stand for and wonders if they do stand for unity.  Do they represent a solidarity of these communities or a categorical separation that hinders itself in its supposed support? I wonder about that, post-show, on the subway home, thinking about the Women’s March on Washington where so many amazing women and others turned out in the thousands world-wide protesting the horrible-ness of the #OrangeMonster and all that he stands for.  I heard many men say, “it’s a Women’s March“, so they didn’t go, but the LGBTQ community turned out strong, linking their arms with the movement against the GOP powers that be.  But months later, when the LGBTQ March on Washington occurred, many women stayed home, saying that it wasn’t their march, or something along the lines of, “I already marched“.  And I get that, sort of.  Protest-fatigue was settling in. But I turned out for both and as many more that I could, trying my hardest to be there protesting for every marginalized group, not just the one that I felt I belonged to.

It’s a strange brew, to find your cause, but also join with a greater cause that doesn’t exactly fit neatly in your persona, but understand the unity of the message, and how it relates to all. Be a proud male feminist, like that wonderful Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau who calls himself just that, or a gay male who stands with the Trans community and the Lesbian community for equal representation under the law. Or a privileged white woman who can rise up and resist the authorities over unfair immigration and border incarcerations. We need to sit around that talking circle and listen closely, and that find glorious and powerful shared power. I want to be a hope-aholic as well. Will you join me?

Gloria
Christine Lahti and Fedna Jacquet in GLORIA: A Life by Emily Mann, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Photo © Joan Marcus.

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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