The roles of women were very different in the first half of the Twentieth Century. But for playwrights Susan Glaspell and Marita Bonner. things were not okay. They had a revolutionary concept of what the roles of women should be. Although somewhat dated, the language still permeates and effects audiences today.
The evening is divided into three-one act plays. The first deals with murder and is a classical whodunit. But whats interesting about this piece is the reaction of the wife of the murdered. Although we never see her, her presence is felt and the bizarre nature of the murder takes hold. Could a woman in that time commit cold-blooded murder? As the play unravels we become more and more confused. As our bewilderment increases, so does our fascination with the event.
The second piece, titled Exit: An Illusion, is a bit more surreal. Is it a dream, illusion, or reality that we are seeing? To everyone’s credit no one knows. The relationship between Dot and Buddy is hot and passionate, while remaining violent and scary. These two play off each other well and the dysfunction of their relationship is evident. What was, ahead of the playwright’s time is the fact that, Buddy is black and Dot is white. Interracial couples were taboo for their time. As for the ending, it is anybody’s guess.
The third and most timely piece is entitled, The People. Featuring a struggling newspaper, this play deals with the importance of galvanizing human beings for social issues. Inspired by the writings of one man, a group of misfits form to try to convince the paper to continue giving voice to unpopular conservative issues. A frustrated and burnt out editor looks for life and inspiration anywhere he can find it. This piece talks about not going quietly into the night and accepting the status quo, but for standing for the rights of The People. Here, they were dealing with woman’s rights, but it is still symbolic for what is happening today.
So those are the three “Visionary Voices” being performed. The ensemble, some who appear in more than one play, do a fine job with their characters. Cheri Wicks does a nice job with both her roles. She is a strong actress and plays her parts well. Equally impressive is Mel House and Morgan McGuire. Both these ladies bring energy and vitality to the stage and are compelling in their own right.
My only qualms with the pieces lie in the the first and second piece. In the first piece every time the actors exit upstairs it is clear that they are walking up three stairs and then down three stairs towards off stage. This destroys the illusion that they are indeed going upstairs. In the second piece, the violence and sex scene seem too staged. This makes us detach from the characters as we find it so choreographed that it comes off as fake. Any time violence is simulated on stage, it must be done with great care or the results can be negative. Here, it does not work.
Yet, I think its important to celebrate the voices of these pioneering women, writing for an audience ahead of their time and hopefully urging reform in their respective worlds. Seeing these obscure plays gave me hope that if these women could raise their voice during a much harder time, maybe folks today will too raise up their own voice and bring about change.
Visionary Voices plays now through March 5, 2017 at the Gloria Maddox Theater 151 W 26th St. www. americanbard.org