Associate New York Critic
It is not such a common occurrence that a playwright attempts to pay tribute to a living legend unless the work of that inspirational personality continues in the present as well as already being a pivotal part of history. That is why it is easy to understand the decision of Emily Mann to bring to the stage the life of the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Under the astute direction of Diane Paulus, the two-hour multimedia piece fuses docudrama, theatre and talking circle, to review the life of Ms. Steinem but more importantly to remind the audience that in such uncertain times, the work she started is not yet done. It is not meant to preach, but to arouse and stimulate, so we may gather, communicate and understand the need for equality. It is not a resurgence but more like a recharge, taking power from one source and passing it on to another, who may then empower another, until all become enlightened, ready and able to fight until the battle is won. More so, it is steeped in reality.
We learn from the past, and when hearing and seeing what this incredible woman has accomplished, we believe and comprehend that one person can make a difference. All the highlights of her successful achievements are covered, most of what many already know from books, film and the news of the past several decades. Her undercover story as a Playboy Bunny in 1963 titled “A Bunny’s Tale” and the founder of National Woman’s Political Caucus in 1971 which subsequently led to publication of MS. Magazine are remembered. Stories about working with determined women activists such as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation are informative and interesting. The script does not delve too far into Steinem’s personal life except for her early years, time at Smith College and her caregiving relationship with her mother, who suffered a nervous breakdown before she was born.
Christine Lahti who fashionably portrays the activist in trademark aviator glasses and hip hugging flared jeans is a remarkable resemblance and is a personal friend. She captures Steinem’s strength, passion, intelligence and sensitivity with ease, always truthful. She is powerful without being overbearing which brings a consciousness to the amazing ability of a humble leader. The six women in the supporting cast are totally competent, all playing multiple roles of both sexes. Projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy are pictures that bring the past to life and enhance the informative action that is happing on stage.
This is not an ordinary piece of theater but is certainly a relevant dramatic presentation, considering the power of the current Me Too movement. It is not the start of something new but rather a jumpstart to remind everyone they cannot stop fighting for equality for all, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. Go spend a couple of hours with this inspirational revisionist, who knows it may just ignite the activist you never knew was inside you, and if that radical fire is already burning, join your brothers and sisters in celebration.
GLORIA: A LIFE
Christine Lahti stars as Gloria Steinem, along with Joanna Glushak, Fedna Jacquet, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Patrena Murray, DeLanna Studi, Liz Wisan, and Brittany K. Allen.
The creative team features scenic design by Amy Rubin, costume design by Jessica Jahn, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design by Rob Kaplowitz and Andrea Allmond, projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy, casting by Tara Rubin, CSA, production supervision by Mary Duffe, and production stage management by Ana M. Garcia. Act 2 Coordinator is Laura Fischer. Creative Consultants are Amy Richards and Kathy Najimy.
“Gloria: A Life” plays at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square (101 East 15th Street at Park Avenue South) through Sunday March 31, 2019. Tickets are on sale at http://gloriatheplay.com/. Performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.
Photo: Christine Lahti, left, plays political activist and women's rights organizer Gloria Steinem, and Joanna Glushak portrays Congresswoman Bella Abzug, in "Gloria: A Life." Credit: Joan Marcus.