Gloria: A Life

Emily Mann
Lincoln Center Theater
Daryl Roth Theatre, New York

Christine Lahti and Fedna Jacquet Credit: Joan Marcus

Gloria: A Life has the potential to annoy a lot of people, basically any man who has never quite lost his patriarchal attitude. As such, it seems unlikely that the President of the United States will catch the subway down from Trump Tower to Union Square for an evening out. It could be argued that his election and statements both before and after represent one of the reasons why this biographical piece has seen the light of day.

For those that are unaware, which could include many British readers and anyone under the age of about 50, Gloria Steinem was an archetypal leader of the feminist movement from its earliest days. In British / Australian terms, she can be seen as a strident, highly vocal equivalent to Germaine Greer.

Commencing a career as a journalist at the New York Times in the 1960s was tough for woman. The general expectation was that those of her gender would write about food, fashion and very little else. The suggestion that a young woman might become a political journalist was regarded by her colleagues as a joke, while at one point she was literally propositioned by the paper’s editor. Writing an insider article about the newly established Playboy Club by donning the bunny outfit was hardly the greatest feminist message either.

Eventually, covering events where women called for equality persuaded the intelligent and independent young woman to get involved. For the next half-century or so, Gloria Steinem became a watchword for every kind of political freedom, supporting not only those of her gender but anyone suffering from prejudice, particularly those that were abused because of race, including Native Americans.

Emily Mann’s play follows the life of Gloria Steinem and will open the eyes of many younger viewers. In addition, it is effectively a history of American feminism and, to a lesser extent, radicalism over the last 50 years.

Perhaps Ms Steinem’s greatest achievement was to be in at the start of Ms Magazine, a publication that sold out overnight and became a focal point for a generation of women trying to escape the shackles of masculine tradition.

Diane Paulus directs an entirely female company in-the-round, which allows viewers to feel involved, even getting an opportunity to share some of their own views in a 20-minute discussion session at the end of each performance.

Christine Lahti not only portrays Gloria Steinem, supported by an enthusiastic ensemble, but also at times seems to act as a moderator for the performance, helping the audience to relate to the life and times of her character.

This play, commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, comes across as a labour of love for everybody involved. That could be because the actors are good at their jobs but, far more likely, is a direct result of their commitment to the women’s movement that is currently back at the top of everybody’s agenda (except President Trump whose views seem to mirror those of his predecessor Richard Nixon as shown on screen).

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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