Strange Sun Theater produces Wickedest Woman, a fierce new play by Jessica Bashline. The production has as much to say about Ann Lohman’s life as it does about gender, women’s reproductive health, social status, shaming, and perspective.
Wickedest Woman tells the story of Ann Trow Lohman (Jessica O’Hara-Baker), also known as Madame Restell, who was famously put on trial for performing an abortion in the 1830s. Shortly after immigrating to the U.S. and her first husband’s death, Ann Trow becomes an apprentice to Dr. Evans (Dawn McGee), a doctor who provided women with contraceptives and powders for bringing back “courses.” Her second husband, Charles Lohman (Jose-Maria Aguila), convinces her that could have her own shop. Together they open a very successful business, selling medicines, practicing midwifery, and running a laying in hospital for unmarried women. As the controversy around her services germinates, her reputation grows, her relationship with her daughter Caroline (Emily Gardner Xu Hall) becomes strained, and the women she helps come and go. Regardless of society’s moral issues with her work in women’s health, her services are necessary.
Ms. Bashline literally gives Ann control of the story by allowing her to shout the District Attorney (Luke Zimmerman) offstage every time he tries to begin the trial scene. While it is a comical gimmick, it also seems to represent the idea that no matter what good deeds a person performs, history will be sure to remember (to even shout out) the worst. This very nature of this idea means that it is all important to gain the first person perspective – which is exactly what Ms. Bashline achieves in this play.
Designed by Anna Driftmier, the set was absolutely lovely. It felt like the bits and pieces of Ann Lohman’s life fitted together. It was interesting that a lot of elements were incomplete – with this sort of history, a lot of the truth is drowned out by the work of tabloids and newspapers that condemned her or painted her in a less than flattering light. Emily White’s period costume design was not extravagant and suited to the characters socio-economic status in both color and style.
Jessica O’Hara-Baker is absolutely stunning. Her Ann Lohman is passionate, matter of fact, and severe to enemies and compassionate to patients. Jose-Maria Aguila’s energy complements her well and his Charles Lohman is the epitome of ambition. The ensemble of actors were constantly playing opposite genders – a clear and powerful choice by director Melissa Crespo – and they excel at gender bending; it created comedic moments and generated a subtle duality. Standing out from the ensemble is Dawn McGee, she is a literal joy to watch. A scene between two policeman, played by Ms. McGee and Evan Daves, is absolutely delightful to watch. Jasmin Walker and Luke Zimmerman were the most consistent with their accents.
At a time when media is fighting to affect and shape our collective perspective, Strange Sun Theater’s production of Wickedest Woman is a reminder that there is always more to the story.
Wickedest Woman, Sun Strange Theater, WP Theater, 2162 Broadway (between 76th & 77th Street), New York, NY. Closes February 2nd.
Tickets are available at www.wickedestwomantheplay.com.