Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bull in a China Shop


Mary Woolley led such an interesting life that it is hard to imagine that it could be turned into a boring play, but playwright Bryna Turner, making her professional debut with this LCT3 production, has managed just that. Among her many achievements, Woolley was president of Mt. Holyoke College for over 35 years and was largely responsible for transforming it from a sleepy regional seminary to a first-rate women’s college. One of her first official acts was to hire her lifelong partner Jeannette Marks, as a professor of English and, within the year, to make her department chair. Suspected favoritism toward Marks dogged Woolley’s career. What Turner has written came across to me as scattered chapters from a Cliff Notes summary of a biography. There was very little enlightenment and not much emotional involvement. Maybe it was more meaningful to lesbians. Since there were two excerpts from a lecture on Woolf’s Orlando, maybe it would have helped to have read that book. As I experienced the play, it shed little heat or light. I must confess that I had to fight nodding off a few times. The multicultural cast is led by Enid Graham as Woolley and Ruibo Quan as Marks. Lizbeth Mackay plays the college’s tradition-bound dean, Michele Selene Ang plays Pearl, a student with a crush on Marks, and Crystal Lucas-Perry’s character, Felicity, is either Marks’s landlady or roommate. The deliberately contemporary dialogue uses the title “Ms.” and is loaded with gratuitous F-bombs. Turner stretches anachronism too far for me when she describes a peace conference to which Woolley was sent by President Hoover: she says she wanted to tell Hitler to pull out of Poland. The conference was seven years before he invaded. Oana Botez costumes the leads in culottes. Did American women wear them 100 years ago? The set design by Arnulfo Maldonado features a back wall with a bright floral design and a large window, a slightly raked polished wooden floor and a walkway at the front. Before the play begins, the set is obscured by a large white rectangular object hanging down that looks like a mattress, but raises to form the set’s ceiling. When the play ended and the rectangle was lowered to its initial position, at least 15 seconds went by before there was applause. Lee Sunday Evans directed. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission.

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