BWW Review: RESPECT at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre
On October 19, I had the pleasure of seeing yet another talented cast at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin, CT, in a show called RESPECT. The directing of Kris McMurray and choreography of James J. Moran help bring out the singing and dancing talents in the four woman cast of Maria Soaft, Emily Gray, Erin Liddell, and Erica Whitfield, who are accompanied by the always excellent live band of TJ Thompson on keyboard, Jamie Sherwood on guitar, and Tim Urso on percussion. The voices and harmonies are strong and reflect hard work, cooperation, and effort from this dedicated cast. The stage chemistry is tight and it is clear that the actresses are enjoying their roles.
While the show uses popular songs that all previously existed outside of this show, it is not like a stereotypical jukebox musical that builds a fictional story around already well-known songs. Rather, this story is playwright Dorothy Marcic's attempt to depict the roles and attitudes of women in American society from 1900 to the present, through songs sung by women. Interspersed with the songs is acting and narration, in some cases somewhat autobiographical of Dorothy Marcic, with Maria Soaft brilliantly representing Dorothy Marcic.
Dorothy Marcic grew up in a home in which her father physically beat her mother. It is through the lens of her mother's domestic abuse that Dorothy Marcic evaluates the impact of gender roles of that time. For this musical, she chose songs from multiple genres and times, with messages that she felt support her own attitudes, and explain the general attitudes marketed by mainstream society, at those times.
I found the insight provided to be very eye-opening and productive in helping me gain a greater sense of understanding as to the mindset behind attitudes that are vastly different from my own. I find it understandable, given Dorothy Marcic's life experiences, that she would view some of the sarcastic "Piece of My Heart" or hostile "You Don't Own Me," "These Boots are Made For Walking" attitudes towards sleazy men found in some popular songs to be positive examples of the empowerment of women. My life experiences have yielded a different view of what I consider to be an empowered woman, one more focused on promoting the positive than rejecting the negative. I love my wife, just like my father loves my mother, my grandfathers loved my grandmothers, and so on. I view all those women, as well as my four aunts, as strong and empowered women, because they have shown love and kindness towards those in their lives. It is their positive examples of goodness and decency that empower them, and is reciprocated to them by those in their lives. For Dorothy Marcic, and anyone who connects with her message, I have to say, as a man, I am truly sorry for how the men in your lives have treated you. You are wonderful and deserve much better than what you have experienced.
On common ground, Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," is the best choice Dorothy Marcic made of songs for this show. The four actresses provide a deeply moving rendition that touches the hearts of the entire audience. This song sends a powerful and true message about the way people who don't fit the physical image the world is selling are so often made to feel, unworthy of love. Women and men can both relate to this emotion that touches at the core of the human heart and has been universally experienced across generations and cultures.
Another good song choice is "In My Daughter's Eyes" by Martina McBride, a positive role model who put her family ahead of her career, and does charity work to help try to stop domestic violence. The song speaks about how love from a child can help us see our own strength and beauty that we often fail to see when we try to judge ourselves by the hateful messages the world may be sending us.
The show briefly deviates from the musical side to extol Rosa Parks, a strong performance from Erica Whitfield, addressing a truly positive example of an inspirational and empowered female role model of American history, one whose legacy is universally respected by people of all walks of life.
Emily Gray is incredibly entertaining when she appears as Betty Boop, nailing the voice.
The show addresses the double-standard of pre-marital sexual behavior in an emotionally powerful scene that left the audience feeling for the 14 year old character that Erin Liddell remarkably played. I would have liked to have seen the show suggest that women unite and refuse to date womanizers. I feel that would be an effective, empowering, and revolutionary approach to eradicating the chauvinistic double-standard.
The show seems to frown upon songs like Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him," a song that shows loving devotion to a guy, which is what decent guys want and will reciprocate. I have a feeling that the negative tone towards the song, expressed in the show may be a result of women having gotten burned by showing that attitude towards the wrong guy. The problem, however, does not lie with the "I Will Follow Him," attitude, which I find to be a good message, rather, it lies with applying the right attitude towards the wrong guy. Personally, I like the song, "I Will Follow Him," the message behind it, and the way this cast performs it.
"I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee is also portrayed negatively in this show, but again, a humble and contrite heart is a good thing, provided that a woman is not being bullied into thinking that she is to blame for the abuse she receives from a man. Domestic abuse towards a woman is never the woman's fault.
Whether a woman is being controlled by an abusive man, or whether she is being controlled by hatred she feels towards men, she is still being controlled, and often blinded by that anger, as she fails to become the best version of the wonderful woman who she was designed to be.
While I understand that Dorothy Marcic drew her song choices from a pool of top 40 songs, finding true female empowerment in music sometimes requires expanding the net to areas that the mainstream media does not want women to know about. "Overcomer" by Mandisa, for example, would have been an excellent song choice from a truly empowered, loving, and positive African-American woman.
The show poses the question of where are the happy endings in love. What can be more empowering to a single woman than having the self-discipline to practice chastity by saving herself for marriage, and having the self-confidence to realize that any guy who does not feel that she is worth the wait is clearly not the right guy for her? Songs like "Wait For Me," by Rebecca St. James, and "White Boots," by Jamie Grace would have been excellent choices to reflect the attitudes of women who found the ultimate in true empowerment by seeing their identity in who they are in God, and are now happily married to good men who respect them, as they will raise their children in happy loving homes. So to answer the unanswered question of the show, there are the happy endings.
Any show that helps me see things from a valid perspective that is not my own is a show that I highly recommend. The more we can understand how other people are feeling and why they are feeling that way, the better equipped we are to show them love, empathy, and sensitivity. Regardless of how anyone feels about the messages the show sends, or fails to send, no one can deny that the cast does an excellent job, each playing multiple roles, and playing them well. The show definitely stirs emotions and captivates the audience. It is my prayer that all women realize that there are good and decent men out there, and that regardless of any past mistakes, you are still worthy of the one who is right for you. RESPECT is scheduled to continue to run at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre, in Berlin, CT, every Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, through November 9, 2019. For tickets, please call the box office at 860-829-1248.