If I were a woman, and trust me, for years I have been convinced that I am a black woman at heart, I would be especially outraged and inspired by the performance of “Ancestra” at the Cleveland Public Theatre. Within the play, women’s rights are explored from a historical and topical perspective. The voices of pioneer women are in supposition with current day decisions that affect us all. And if you don’t think women have had it rough, consider this. In 1976, the first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. You read that correctly, 1976! So spare me the “women are emotional” bullshit, when the sisters get together and demand to be heard.
There are three major components of the piece. The first being an exploration of women’s struggles in the 1800s, that is creatively presented in a secret place that is located “in the woods”, where thoughts, expressions and debates can take place without consternation. It is in this sacred space, that we meet the women, Lucy Stone (a fiery Katy Lynn Patterson) and Antoinette Brown (a classic jewel Lauren Joy Fraley), who would go on to become a major influence in the women’s rights movement. The second component is watching the major players in The National Women’s Rights Convention of 1853, right here in Cleveland.
The third component is a contemporary story of one woman struggling with issues of women’s health and reproductive rights. She begins investigating abortion clinics and what information is being presented to potential clients. But after a personal surprise, all her investigative instincts are challenged by her own real life decision making process.
These components are beautifully woven into a flowing and adeptly paced showcase of talent. The May Pole of the evening is Cora, powerfully played by Chris Sebert. GDFS! You will understand those letters after you see this production. Sebert is memorizing as we follow her from investigative reporter, to eventually, watching one of the most gut wrenching decisions that a women will ever have to make in her lifetime. Faye Hargate plays double duty as a fierce activist Abby Kelley Foster, and Cora’s sister Marian. Hargate displays superlative character choices in both historical genres. Anne McEvoy is on fire throughout this piece. Whether communicating where woman’s rights need to be, kicking scholastic ass or playing Cora’s mom, Jan. McEvoy brings a beautiful sense of communicative edification, and serving motherly realness with passionate humanity.
Sally Groth* delivers solid gold. Groth is SO impressive in each of her characters. I was ready to march into hell for a heavenly cause every time she spoke. One spitfire that caught my eye was Patterson, who commands attention with the personified core of Lucy Stone, and comedic chops that could easily get Officer Dynn a spin off series. Fraley is just radiant on stage and delivers confidence at every turn of Antoinette Brown. Rhoda Rosen is just supreme class. Rosen brings quality and honesty to every nuanced word she speaks. Sarah Moore delights as Martha Wright, Tanera Hutz (a little hard to hear in the opening office scene) is a beautiful presence, and Sarah Moore is solid force of nature.
This piece was written by Holly Holsinger and Chris Seibert, along with Renee Schilling and Sally Groth. I loved this play. Holsinger masterfully directed this piece. She kept the audience engaged throughout, while making sure that we left educated about women’s rights, and/or provoked to realize the struggle. Aaron Benson needs a round of applause for the exciting and beautiful scenic design. The woods never looked more hauntingly beautiful. Tesia Dugan Benson provided sharp costume design for both eras with creative passion. Once again, Benjamin Gantose heightened the play with ascetic visuals. Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas called a terrific show.
There is a line somewhere in this play that Cora says to the women at the convention: “and no one remembers your names”. That line hit me hard. As a gay man, I don’t know one name of any of the drag queens that bravely fought back against persecution at the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall riots are largely regarded as a catalyst for the LGBT movement for civil rights in the United States. It discourages me that not one of their names is prominent. So, I applaud these courageous women who created this piece. They have connected with our current history, by connecting us with the past, and as a result, given heightened awareness to some incredibly brave and pioneering women.
SEE IT! If you have never been to Cleveland Public Theatre, I think this is a great piece to get your theatrical feet wet. This show is an excellent example of the process, the message, the execution and the social impact of creating a powerful piece of theatre.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States, appearing under a Special Appearance Contract.
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May 22 – June 7
$12-$28 General Admission
(216) 631-2727 x501