In this year of the centennial of women’s suffrage (Is it possible we’ve only had the vote since 1920??) it’s perfect that the woman most associated with second-wave feminism beyond enfranchisement– “Women’s Lib” as I first called it in the ’70’s–is still on the front lines, driving home the conversation she began 50 years ago. “GLORIA STEINEM: A LIFE”  is now onstage at the American Repertory Theater, a new play by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus recounting “History. Her story. Our story.”

Scene from “GLORIA: A LIFE” at American Repertory Theater

The first act is an engaging recap of Gloria’s life, involving historic video, narration, an all-women ensemble in all the parts male and female, and a look-alike Patricia Kalember as the smart, fearless Steinem who as a young female journalist was relegated to writing about “women’s subjects”  like fashion and homemaking, until she changed the subject to the real women’s issue: the struggle for equality in a sexist, white, male-dominated culture where “The personal is political.”

Act I is important for many reasons, especially for those of us who may not know the history of the movement, what a radical wake-up call it was, and how one woman’s experience amplified could change the world. For me Act I was a trip down memory lane, having lived it,  the marches, the speeches and fiery feminists Bella Abzug, Flo Kennedy, Wilma Mankiller, the bra burnings, Ms Magazine, retaining my “maiden” (!) name, etc.  The play wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the woman herself, or the vibe in the air during those heady days. So I welcomed finding out about the parts of Gloria’s life I did not know, that she had cared for her brilliant, ailing mother during her adolescent and teen years, and wondering about how that had formed her.

Joyce Kulhawik & Gloria Steinem backstage

While the first act is Gloria’s story, the second act is “ours”– a talking circle. On the press opening night when I was there, Gloria Steinem herself was in the audience, and we were thrilled and applauding as she was introduced and walked down the stairs and into the middle of the circle, face to face with her actress counterpart, and with the audience on all sides.  Gloria herself then lead us in a talking circle as we shared our own stories; the vibe was genuine, the stories real, emotional, and it felt wonderful to be so seen and heard.

At each performance, a talking circle will be lead by a special guest–a leader, a scholar, an activist– carrying out Steinem’s belief in the power of the collective voice as a catalyst for change. In these conversations we will share our reactions to the play, our own experiences, and continue on the path toward equality and social justice. It will be my honor to launch a talking circle at the 2PM matinee performance on Wednesday February 26! JOIN ME! See GLORIA: A LIFE at the A.R.T. through March 1! 

Scene from “DEAL ME OUT” at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

Gamers on guard: I just saw the season closer at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre which is dedicated to new plays, and this one is terrific and timely: DEAL ME OUT written by M.J. Halberstadt. It takes place in November, 2016 the week after that revelatory presidential election. A group of gaming millenials, friends since high school, have been gathering weekly in one of their basements to play boardgames. On this night, all six show up, and unbeknownst to one of them–five have a very specific agenda.  Though that agenda is divulged in the show’s press materials, it’s better if you find out by watching. Let it be said that as the evening progresses, according to the agreed upon rules of the group, those “rules,” are tested and come up short.

The group is diverse around race, sexual identity, preference,  gender, political persuasion, and in this zero sum game, much like the social and political landscape outside the “safe” zone of the basement, the rules are deeply polarizing and prove inadequate to the task of parsing relationships; something called humanity is lost.

Directed by Shana Gozansky, the play unfolds with increasing dramatic urgency over 90 minutes with no intermission. The dialogue is packed and overlapped with “gaming” references and jargon, actions and reactions processed at the speed of a click. The ensemble is fresh and sharp, with a special shout out to Matthew Bretschneider as Dez whose character lifted the heaviest load, simultaneously the most provocatively irritating and vulnerable of the group. SEE “DEAL ME OUT” through March 1 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre!