Friday, October 11, 2019

Review of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Blue Stockings

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Blue Stockings. It was by Jessica Swale and it was directed by Spenser Davis. It was about a group of girls in the late nineteenth century at Girton College in Cambridge, who were very controversial for their time because women were not yet given the right to graduate with degrees from Cambridge. It is about choosing between knowledge and romance, threats to female friendship, and self-worth. I think this is an intriguing idea for a show, and it was interesting to learn about these women characters.

I noticed how the women students at Girton--Tess (Heather Kae Smith), Celia (Julia Rowley), Maeve (Imani Lyvette), and Carolyn (Elise Marie Davis)--seemed to be using men's words (in the form of quotation) to make their points in class. It shows that all of the ideas that were respected by society in that time were the ideas of men. By the end they begin to express their own theories and ideas, moving from quotation to contradiction of male theories. They are led to this new way of thinking by their teacher, Miss Blake (Cameron Feagin), who showed them their ideas were just as smart if not smarter than any man's and that they had a right to express them. We see the male students drinking and having fun, while the women have to work five times as hard to try to gain access to (but probably not even get) the achievements that the boys are getting. While all the women are working their butts off, the men are drunkenly proclaiming that women will never be as smart as men are.

I thought the female friendships were very compelling, but I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to them. The female friendships were what I found most interesting, but the play spends a lot of time focused on the men and how misogynistic they are instead of giving the female characters more stage time and character development. The most compelling moments were moments of human connection like when Tess was having a breakdown because she was too focused on her relationship on a boy from another college in the university and wasn't paying attention to her studies. Tess starts to open up to Celia about how she thinks she will never succeed so it seems useless to try. This was one of my favorite moments in the show because you get to see Celia grow because she starts to help Tess in an authoritative way, which we haven't seen from her. Celia always seemed afraid of her brain power and wants to make herself smaller. But in this moment she sees Tess in need and she is propelled by that moment to be brutally honest, talk about herself, and give advice in a unapologetic way. I was sad that the first act ended with the permanent departure of my favorite character, Maeve, because she seemed to be the most mature, intelligent, and likable character in the show. She has to return home to care for her family because the head of Girton, Elizabeth Welsh (Jamie Bragg) believes that appearances are more important than the actual education of women. She is obsessed with getting men's approval for her college, and to do that, women have to appear to value traditional female roles and duties over their education.

I found the focus of the play inconsistent in an unhelpful way, especially in the second act because it shifted its focus from the relationships within Girton to the men and their place in the lives of the women. And at the end, after focusing on a fictional love triangle (between Tess, Ralph [Kevin Sheehan], and Will [Martin Diaz-Valdes]), the play tries to tie it all up like the end of a documentary. I was also disappointed in how the climactic scene of the play featured pretty much only monologues from men, as if the play is more interested in the male view of the situation even though we already know these men's views from earlier in the play. Their pitying apologies weren't convincing at all to me. I'm not sure they were supposed to be, but I was't sure why such meaty monologues were needed if we weren't supposed to be convinced.

People who would like this show are people who like learning about feminism, historical fiction, and drunken male proclamations. I think this is an interesting topic for a show. It has inspired me to look more into this time in history and learn more about the lives of women pursuing education and advancement.

Photos: Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography