"What is anything worth until it is uttered? Is not the world one great utterance?"
-- George Eliot
Voices rise as 16 women stand and deliver in a new staged reading production at CAST March 14-15.
“A Voice of My Own,” by Elinor Jones, happens Friday and Saturday at the Columbia Center for the Arts. Short monologues, scenes and songs illustrate the rich history of women writers (Lady Murasaki, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Sand, and more) finding their voices, making themselves heard, and the prices many of them paid.
Tickets are $10 at the door; the show runs two performances only, 7:30 p.m. both nights. In staged readings, actors read from the script, but there are still entrances and exits and elements of movement and interaction between the players. Several of the performers have memorized key excerpts and present them in involving monologues.
The experience of being a director is a new one for Desiree Amyx-Mackintosh, a veteran CAST actor.
“They’re always looking for new directors, and I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go, try to start with a smaller project.’ Right: smaller project, one with 18 cast members,” she joked. Yet “this show really lends itself well to a staged reading,” she said.
Women stand and take turns reading the histories, and words, of 19 writers from across 26 centuries, some better known than others, including Sappho, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, Geroge Sand, Marianne Moore, and Dorothy Parker. Amyx-Mackintosh said she has departed in some ways from the original staging, primarily in having one performer, singing all the songs. The script originally divvies up the songs to six of the performers, but Amyx-Mackintosh knew that might not be ideal in this production.
“There are a lot of roles in this play, and the cast includes a number of first-timers,” she said, explaining that the singing might have been intimidating that “for those who wanted to put a toe in the water,” so she turned to cast member Emily Vawter, an accomplished singer, who handles all the music, accompanying herself on guitar. Also in the cast: Monique Adams, Barb Berry, Pennie Burns, Katie Christopherson, Anne Egan, Irene Fields, Judie Hanel, Glenn Harris, Brenda Hering, narrator Julie Jindal, Deborah Langlois, Adrienne Lee, Mary Ann Pauline, Michelina Roth, Rachel Short, Emma Spaulding, and Kathy Williams.
The play challenges its performers, who all deliver their texts and histories with aplomb and an evident compassion for the writers. One of the more harrowing moments in the play is Langlois’ rendition of the tragic fate of William Shakespeare’s sister, who runs away to London so that she might act — unheard of in the all-male Elizabethan stage era. The other is Lee’s performance as Mary (“Frankenstein”) Shelley, who reveals her maternal torment at the realization of the horrifying creation she has stitched together, unwillingly, in her own mind, “making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.”
The play is not quite all-female; Harris has a one-minute scene as the poet Robert Southey, who corresponds with the Bronte sisters.
This is a literary play — people reading the words of highly skilled writers — and the words are by turns humorous, shocking, and deeply moving. (The play is suitable for mature teens.) But the flow of the text, and the transition of women a writers is fluid rather than piecemeal, and many of the readings are stirring and provocative. Further, while it is a play about the lives and words of women, “Voice of our Own” carries an appeal for men and women alike.
“I think men are liberated, and understand women are capable of writing good stories and can be their intellectual equals,” Amyx-Mackintosh said, “and with some of these authors, men love these stories, ‘Frankenstein,’ for example, and women in their time wrote under an assumed name and people assumed they were men.” Hiding behind a husband or other man’s name, or inventing a male name to put on their books were two common approaches that are examined in detail in “Voice of their Own.”
Near the end of the play comes the sobering, yet somehow hopeful, passage by Virginia Woolf, from “To the Lighthouse”: “There it was, her picture: Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, an attempt at something. It would be hung in the attic, she thought. It would be destroyed. But what does it matter? It was done; yes, it was finished. Yes, she thought, I have had my vision.”
Amyx-Mackintosh said the play is a reminder that, “if you have something in your attic it doesn’t have to stay there, not in this day and age, especially. Pursue your passion.”