Political humor is nothing new


L-R: Megan DeLay, Lucinda Johnston. (Photo by Heather Mall)
L-R: Megan DeLay, Lucinda Johnston. (Photo by Heather Mall)

‘The Suffrage Plays’

3 stars

It might be difficult for some to conceive of a notion that denied roughly fifty percent of the population from having a say in what was considered to be a modern democratic process. But indeed, this was the case deep into the first part of the twentieth century, both here and in Britain.

These three pithy, well performed, one-act plays directed by Beth Wolf and presented by Artemisia Theatre as “The Suffrage Plays” provide insight through a good deal of levity and snarky repartee that give voice to the debate that 100 years ago provided women with the right to vote.

Before the age of TV and the Internet, people looked to the theater for entertaining political commentary the equivalent of Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, or Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

Perhaps no one at the time did it with more cutting humor than playwright George Bernard Shaw whose “Press Cuttings” is like a political cartoon come to life. Lambasting the government for fighting to maintain the status quo, the play features General Mitchener (Ross Frawley) who proposes to “shoot them all down,” and Prime Minister Balsquith (Tom McGrath) who is forced to disguise himself in order to make his way through London’s throng of angry suffragists.

It is easy to see how Shaw’s style of smart absurd humor will later be echoed in the likes of Monty Python and what will come to be known generally as British Humor.

L-R: Ross Frawley, Tom McGrath. (Photo by Heather Mall).
L-R: Ross Frawley, Tom McGrath. (Photo by Heather Mall).

The other two one-act offerings are both by playwright Evelyn Glover.

In a witty exchange of dialog between charwoman Mrs. Chicky (Megan Delay) and socialite Mrs. Holbrook (Lucinda Johnston), “A Chat with Mrs. Chicky,” cleverly reveals the upper class’ condescending view of the labor class.

It mirrors the side of the conflict arguing that men have an innate understanding of politics and power that enables them to look out for the best interests of women in much the same way as in traditional English society it was accepted that the upper classes knew what was best for the lower classes.

Through their conversation we come to see that laboring women are not quite the ignorant lot they are made out to be.

L-R: Lucinda Johnston, Ross Frawley, Brittani Yawn. (Photo by Heather Mall. )
L-R: Lucinda Johnston, Ross Frawley, Brittani Yawn. (Photo by Heather Mall. )

“Miss Appleyard’s Awakening” has two women of equal middle class station presumably agreeing until Mrs. Crabtree (Megan Delay) eagerly anxious to make her case against the vote inadvertently has the effect of tipping Miss Appleyard (Brittani Yawn) to the other side.

“The Suffrage Plays” will resonate with those interested in gender politics, those who see the parallel to current political discourse including Brexit, impeachment and immigration, as well as any who have never learned or who might have forgotten that many of the rights we enjoy today (on both sides of the pond) were obtained through significant struggle.

DETAILS: “The Suffrage Plays” by Artemisia Theatre is at The Den (Third Floor), 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.,Chicago,, through Nov. 24, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 697-3830 or visit Artemisia Theatre.

Reno Lovison

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