by Lynn on May 3, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Greenwin Theatre (5040 Yonge St), Meridian Arts Centre, Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. Plays until May 7, 2023.

Written by Emily Mann

Directed by Marcia Kash

Set by Sean Mulcahy

Lighting by Amber Hood

Costumes by Alex Amini

Sound by Richard Feren

Original projections design by Elaine J. McCarthy

Cast: Maria Ricossa

Cherish Violet Blood

Liz Der

Catherine Fitch

Karen Jewels

Caroline Toal

Malube Uhindu-Gingala

Gloria-A Life has lots of the facts of Gloria Steinem’s life but not the phosphorescence (as poet Emily Dickinson might say) that is needed to make a play sing. For much of the play it felt like a political rally of feminist empowerment, which is fine to a point, but it doesn’t make for great playwrighting.

Gloria Steinem, the American writer, political activist, organizer etc.  has crammed a lot of accomplishments into her 89 years. She had humble beginnings in Ohio but soon expanded her views when she went to Smith College. She was able to recognize that there was more to life than just wanting to find a husband, as many of her college friends thought.

After college she moved to New York City to eke out a living as a writer. While she wrote the celebrated story: “I Was a Playboy Bunny” that exposed the horrible working conditions of the job, she found that editors (usually male) only wanted her to write facile stories about women. They didn’t want hard-hitting stories. Steinem was tenacious. She endured the sexist, misogynistic comments of men about her looks, her abilities and potential. In time her assignments became more substantial. She was there at the founding of New York Magazine and then MS Magazine, devoted to women, weighty subjects and feminist issues.

She wrote about the birth of the Women’s Movement, feminism, empowerment, racism, and ultimately social justice.  She found that Black women were the initial leaders. She learned a tremendous amount from them and they embraced her because of her commitment. She was joined in sisterhood at rallies by the likes of Bella Abzug—a firebrand of a politician and feminist champion—Betty Friedan, Florynce Kennedy, a Black activist and Wilma Mankiller, an Indigenous Chief.

By her own admission, Gloria Steinem had a monotone voice and usually a subdued demeanor. It did not make for a dynamic speaker, so she usually spoke first and then women like Bella Abzug spoke, who had a rousing effect on the crowds.

Putting all this into dramatic form is tricky. While playwright Emily Mann has noted many of the facts about Gloria Steinem’s life, there are holes. References to her mother seem choppy. Often the shape of the play seemed like so many references to: “And then I wrote,” “And then I went to this rally,” etc. After a while the play is bogged down with political philosophy, the formation of many and various groups and many examples of feminist empowerment. It does not make for compelling playwrighting.

Maria Ricossa, as Gloria Steinem, is a vibrant actor playing a monotoned sounding, ‘contained’ personality, who looks striking in aviator glasses, poofy hair and the iconic slim pants and flashy belt. Ricossa moves with grace and plays Steinem with thought and nuance. But the ‘dry’ material and this less than compelling character, make it hard going.

The play is directed by Marcia Kash, an accomplished director of many productions. So I was surprised that in this case her direction is heavy handed. Six actresses play all the subordinate parts. Most of the male characters (editors, reporters etc.) are depicted as stereotypical New York accented clods who were thug-like and gruff. All the characters seem to bellow. The exception is Dr. John Sharpe of London, who before it was legal in England, referred a 22-year-old Gloria Steinem, for an abortion. Dr. Sharpe is played with compassion and understate by Malube Uhindu-Gingala.

Some audience members sit on the stage around the three walls of the stage—the rest of the audience sits in the auditorium. Arranged around the space are many Persian rugs with four padded cubes on which characters would sit. I wonder where this is. It seems it’s a suggestion of a gathering in Gloria Steinem’s apartment.  

And at the end at the show, at the bow, Maria Ricossa says that they are doing something different than a talk back. They are having a talking circle where the audience is invited to share their stories, after a guest speaker has given about a 15-minute talk. Not once are those in attendance told that those who need/want to leave could go. That has to be rethought.  

Harold Green Jewish Theatre presents:

Plays until: May 7, 2023

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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