By Tulis McCall

First of all the term is “Suffragist” not “Suffragette”.  A Suffragist is a person who demands suffrage (the right to vote) for everyone.  Suffragette is a derogatory term created to turn a female Suffragist into an innocent and misguided twerp.

This fact is not new to me.  It was, however, new to most of the people who were in the audience at the Music Box Theatre.  That alone makes this show worth seeing.  Brush up your history folks!

Shaina Taub wrote this show from top to bottom: Book, Music, Lyrics.  It i astonishing that this entire creation came out of one woman.  So there is that.

As to the rest of the cast, they are each singular and engaging.  There is no one person who stands out, and this makes sense because it is a women’s ensemble, and women share the spotlight easily.  Bravo us.  In addition the orchestrations – the three and four part harmonies – the costumes and wigs are off the charts.  You can practically feel the corsets and hat pins.  The package is entrancing.

Back in the 1980’s I had a one woman show, “What Everywoman Knows” that told the tale of many an American woman who was a known progressive of her time and had been forgotten.  One of the women I portrayed was Alice Paul (Taub).  Ms. Paul had this crazy idea that women deserved the right to vote, and rather than wait her turn she clawed her way up to the front of the line and took thousands of women (and men) with her.  She began with the idea of a march on Washington – something that had never been done.  (The song “Find A Way” becomes a recurring theme throughout.)  In short order there were 250,000 women converging on Washington in 1913.

Before social media, before the radio, before television, before telephones were in common use – a quarter of a million people showed up to demand an Amendment to the Constitution that enfranchised women.

It only took seven years for that to happen.  But who’s counting.  In the mean time, Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party members were arrested for picketing Woodrow Wilson’t Whitehouse, carrying banners quoting the President on importance of Democracy (this was his reason for entering WWI).  The women proposed that Democracy was a swell idea if women could be included in the mix.  For this they were arrested for “Obstructing Traffic” and sent to a workhouse where they were force-fed until their letters were smuggled out to the press.  Wilson denied any knowledge of these doings.

And what has changed in the past 110 years?  Sorry to say not a lot.  Sure, sure, women can have their own credit cards (signed into law in 1974 by Gerald Ford), and we can wear pants, and we can ask for equal pay.  But then there is that pesky Pro-choice issue that is accompanied by the idea that some people know better than I do about my body – or yours for that matter – because they have a direct line to God Almighty. And speaking of arrests – what about the students at Columbia protesting the Palestinian situation who have been carted off to jail.  Wonder when protesting became a crime?

These are the thoughts that swirl around your head when watching what amounts to a travelogue through the past century of American Women’s history.  The excitement, the challenge, the thrill and of course the idiotic situation where women had to ASK,  We were and are trusted to bear and raise children, but not to run a corporation. And so far the Equal Rights Amendment authored by Paul and first submitted to Congress in 1923 – “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” has not been ratified by the states in a way on which everyone can agree.  Suffice it to say the same tired arguments – and ERA it is not needed – and the new arguments that it might lead to transgender or Queer rights are being passed around like loose joints.

There are a few inconsistencies in this script.  The role of black women is never made clear.  Did they march in 2013 or did they acquiesce and step to the rear? The spat between Ida B. Wells (Nikki M. James) and Mary Church Terrell (Anastacia McCleskey) is never fully realized.  They had opposing views about how best to participate in the suffrage movement.  It is almost as if black women got overlooked in the script the same way they did for the march. This choice feels deliberate, but I cannot imagine why.   We could have used a little less Wilson and a lot more NAACP. In the end all we know is that they agree that suffrage will not be granted to them.

In case the fire in your belly has gone out, “Suffs” will throw some coal on it.  For centuries women have fought, been raped, tarred and feathered, murdered and in general tortured just so that we would shut up.  The women in this show were fighting so that their great granddaughters would have shoulders to stand on.

We would be those great granddaughters.

What are you going to do???  This is what Suffs asks of us.  You could begin by taking a young woman to see this show.

SUFFS book, music and lyrics Shaina Taub, direction by Leigh Silverman,

WITH Shaina Taub, Nikki M. James, Jenn Colella, Grace McLean, Hannah Cruz, Kim Blanck, Anastacia McCleskey, Ally Bonino, Tsilala Brock, Nadia Dandashi, and Emily Skinner.

Choreography by Mayte Natalio, scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Jason Crystal, orchestrations by Michael Starobin, and music supervision and music direction by Andrea Grody.