Strange Ladies written by Susan Sobeloff and Directed by Jan Zvaifler couldn’t be more timely. As old issues are being brought to the forefront by the current administration, the play is a good reminder of how we’ve (women) have always been fighting for basic rights as human beings. Even though we’re half the world’s population!
The play takes us back to a group of Suffragists fighting for the right to vote in 1917. They are the third generation of women working to get the vote. Each group of women was quieted. However, this group changed all that when they started picketing the White House after President Wilson dismissed them, an action that had never been attempted before. Most of the women are arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse Prison. They are forced to choose between their families and freedom. 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of their imprisonment.
The goal of each woman is the same, get the vote, but what inspires them varies. Rose (Gwen Loeb) wants to fight for labor unions. Vida’s (Radhika Rao) sister passed away while involved in the movement and is convinced to continue in honor of her by the other ladies. Lucy (Regina Morones) is looking towards the future and what kind of world she wants for her children. Harriet (Millissa Carey) bows out of the movement after War World I starts. She claims that they are adding stress to the President’s plate and loyalty to him is more important than loyalty to themselves and their rights. One character points out the hypocrisy of her point; supporting something they had no say in voting for.
A story often not told is that of Mary (Nicol Foster), she knows the power of the vote and wants to end segregation in all States. As a woman of color there’s a distrust that’s expressed since their voices are often left out or used for the end goal that so often ends up only including white women. There is also Vida and Rose, who have an intimate relationship that the other ladies may or may not know about. The identity of lesbians is also often missing in history because of stigma.
Alice (Renee Rogoff) is one of the leaders of the movement and the only one to not get arrested. She keeps up the momentum as best as she can and also spreads the word of what the women are going through while in prison. Their limits were tested in an attempt to quiet them, but the prison failed at their goal. We see them grow physically weak during a hunger strike but their spirits only get stronger. They were given the nickname “Strange Ladies” after enduring the harsh conditions the prison was known for.
The actresses were stellar and had great chemistry with each other. You could see and hear the emotion that they felt for their characters. The play also features period music with musical direction by Milissa Carey who also plays Harriet. In hindsight, it’s been less than 100 years since women have had the right to vote. Even longer, for women of color who faced additional obstacles that kept them from voting. It’s an essential story in our history and seeing it come to life is a great way to keep the memory of the women before us alive. Sobeloff did a great job in representing as many voices as she could in such a short time frame. You’ll leave the theatre inspired.
Performing at the Berkeley City Club 2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley
Tickets: $30 online at centralworks.org or $30 – $15 sliding scale at the door.
Previews and Thursdays are pay-what-you-can at the door.
For more information call 510.558.1381 or visit http://centralworks.org