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GLORIA: A LIFE–The Story of an Ohio Native’s Feminist Awakening at Human Race Theatre

Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of GLORIA: A LIFE: Human Race Theatre

Perhaps you know Gloria Steinem for her expose on Playboy Bunny, or for founding Ms. Magazine, or for her articles and books; but you haven’t met the Toledo native like you will at Human Race Theatre’s GLORIA: A LIFE, by Emily Mann playing at the Loft Theatre. This evening of theatre will open your eyes to parts of Gloria Steinem’s life that you haven’t seen before.

While it might strike you that this story is a perfect vehicle for a one woman show (in the style of many one woman shows about impressive women), this is actual an ensemble performance led by a powerful Jennifer Johansen as Gloria Steinem. The ensemble, a circle of women from a range of ethnicities and ages, bring the whole of Gloria’s story to life. These women represent by turns all of the incredible women who were part of Steinem’s feminist awakening and who made up the many members of the women’s liberation movement.

While Steinem is well known for her visibility in the movement, GLORIA: A LIFE doesn’t lift up Steinem at the expense of everyone else, and that’s the role that the ensemble plays in this piece. The ensemble is wonderful as a whole, but there are a few standout moments: Eileen Earnest brings a great levity to each scene she’s in, but her Irish taxi driver who gave the women’s movement is a particular bright spot. Sherman Fracher performs activist Bella Abzug with warmth and vigor, and Burgess Byrd’s turn as activist Flo Kennedy is energetic and powerful. I wish that the program listed all of the MANY activists and leaders that the ensemble played, because you’ll want to know more about the network of women GLORIA brings to life on the Loft Stage.

The subject of historic and political dramas tend to fall into two categories: plays like COPENHAGEN or FROST/NIXON, dramas that bring us into the room where it happened and see something a new, and plays like GLORIA: A LIFE that attempt to dramatize an entire life in a series of storytelling vignettes. This style of play requires a flexible design and direction which it receives from the team. Marya Spring Cordes keeps the story moving, as the women exit and enter the stage from all over the theatre bringing new energy into the many events in Steinem’s life. The set, designed by Tamara L. Honesty, is open and welcoming giving the feel of a political field office with mismatched furniture and posters on the backdrop which suits the show well. I particularly enjoyed the design on the floor of women lifting up other women. Ayn Kaethchen’s Costume design easily brings the ensemble through the multiple decades and personalities covered in the play, as well as giving Gloria that signature Gloria Steinem look. John Rensel’s lights do the work of taking the audience from scene to scene without scenery.

GLORIA: A LIFE runs 90 minutes, but be warned there is a 20-minute Talking Circle directly after the show that is difficult to duck out of. The talking circle was one of the tools of feminist consciousness raising in the 70’s, and The Human Race Theatre invites you to share and listen to women’s stories from the audience after the show. You’ll be surprised what you hear. GLORIA:A LIFE runs through March 15th and it’s a great way to celebrate Women’s History Month. Tickets can be purchased here: https://humanracetheatre.org/show/gloria-a-life/