By Edward Kliszus
Susan B at the Theater for the New City is a one-act bio play that examines suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s (Kathleen Moore) struggles, as revealed during her historic press review with journalist Nelly Bly (Jenny D. Green). Bly published her interview with Anthony in the New York World publication in February 1896.
As the interview unfolded, the ensemble draped in period costumes ably characterized scenes inspired by Anthony’s interactions with Bly. This technique dramatically enriched just as it added pictorial and aural context to the story. We also enjoyed apposite musical support from pianist Peter Dizzoza, who also composed music and designed musical settings for this production. The troupe even sang a lovely Anglican hymn, which I associated with coverture and its source in English common law.
Susan B. Anthony’s story takes place from 1820 through 1906. During that time, human rights issues were ubiquitous and, when examined now, are shocking to modern ears. In addition to the clear moral and ethical issues of slavery soon to boil over in 1861, women lost their legal identity when married. This continued into the 20th century when women remained a man’s property as chattel.
In 19th century America, a woman became a feme covert when married, a dependent like an underaged child, entering a legal state of coverture. Women’s property became their husbands as they became subject to the husband’s management and control. Divorce laws favored husbands, and guardianship laws favored fathers. Women could not vote, hold public office, participate in lawmaking, or serve on a jury.
I recall Susan B. Anthony’s distinguished predecessor, Abigail Adams, who in 1776 wrote to the Continental Congress in her famous “Remember the Ladies” dispatch to remind them of the risks of consigning absolute power to husbands through marriage and coverture. Coverture survived well into the 20th century in some forms; one may recall how, into the 1970s, married women could not apply for loans or mortgages without their husband’s imprimatur.
Why the history lesson? This play production “Susan B” reminds us that Susan B. Anthony was an astounding, courageous voice in a wilderness who, at her peril, evoked an awakening of clear thinking, reflection, and debate. My first impression of the bravery, intellect, and wisdom projected on stage by Susan B. Anthony was that she evoked a Renaissance akin to that which first emanated in Florence, lifting Europe from darkness into a time of humanism from the Late Middle Ages into a period we frequently examine through the lenses of Copernicus, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Botticelli.
This play is important. It links Susan B. Anthony’s voice, her struggles, and eventual reforms to the contemporary disputes and unfortunate invectives that proliferate in modern discourse about voting rights. On the other hand, perhaps fiery discourse is a good thing. You decide.
At the Friday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Oct. 15 performances, members of the League of Women Voters of NYC shall lead lively discussions as they examine social issues, voting rights, and more in the context of contemporary national debate. The League shall offer Voter Registration materials at the Theater for the New City at these events.
The Theater for the New City again presents an exciting, stimulating, and globally entertaining work. It is surrounded by marvelous restaurants and is located in Manhattan’s East Village, a short walk from Tompkins Square Park. See the links below for tickets and upcoming events.
The Actors (in alphabetical order)
Tom Arrowsmith, Ensemble
Sam Arthur, Ensemble
John Cencio Burgos, Ensemble
Jenny D. Green as Nellie Bly
Dan Kelley as Frederick Douglass
Amy Losi as Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth McBryde, Ensemble
Kathleen Moore as Susan B. Anthony
Written by Toby Armour
First developed under the direction of the late George Ferencz
Directed by Joan Kane
Set design by Mark Marcante.
Costume designer is Billy Little.
Lighting design by Bruce A! Kraemer.
Sound design by Joy Lin.
Props master is Lytza Colon.
Composer, musical settings, and piano Peter Dizzoza.
Production stage manager is Roger Lipson.
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
New York NY
October 12 to 16, 2022
Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 PM, Saturday & Sunday at 3:00 PM
Tickets: $18 gen. adm., $15 seniors. Free with college or university ID.
Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: play runs about 45 minutes, followed on 10/14 and 10/15 by a 30 minute talkback with representatives of the League of Women Voters of NYC.
For Friday, Oct 14: Diane Burrows, Co-President of LWV of NYC, and Ketaki Gujar and Karen Wharton (Friday 8:00 PM). On Saturday, October 16: Renuka Balakrishnan and Sherletta McCaskill