Review: SISTERS IN LAW Celebrates Friendship and Conflict Between the Supreme Court's First Two Female Justices
The West Coast Premiere of Jonathan Shapiro's first play, SISTERS IN LAW, starring Tovah Feldshuh as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephanie Faracy as Sandra Day O'Connor, celebrates friendship and conflict between the Supreme Court's first two female justices. And it could not be a more perfect time for such an ode to female empowerment, given how the #MeToo movement and Equal Rights marches have mobilized people from all walks of life to take up the cause of equality for all.
Directed by Patricia McGregor (Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole, Skeleton Crew), with an all-female design team, this new production, based on Linda Hirshman's New York Times bestseller, celebrates the friendship - and conflict -- between two modern-day legends who became the United States Supreme Court's first female justices. SISTERS IN LAW transcends party, religion, and culture with a tale of Democrat Ginsburg and Republican O'Connor, two polar opposites, as they grapple with matters of the law and personal belief, ultimately revealing just how similar and yet so different the two women really were.
Sandra Day O'Connor, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, is the charismatic former Arizona State Senator, fond of compromise, who was raised to rope and ride on the Lazy-B Ranch. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by President Bill Clinton and called "Mother of the Feminist Movement," is a New York intellectual and former director of the ACLU's litigation strategy, eager to achieve gender equality as soon as possible. Almost immediately after Ginsburg's appointment, the women are confronted by a case that lays bare their most deeply held personal and political beliefs, pitting them against one another in a battle over the future of the Court, the soul of the country and the meaning of justice. Sisters in Law raises timely questions of how we can resolve our deepest differences, working together to achieve a goal when approaching it from two very different points of view.
During the thought-provoking 90-minute play, made even more visually intense via attention-grabbing historical projections of news headlines to forward the progression of time on Rachel Myers exquisitely transformational scenic design,Feldshuh and Faracy fully embody not only the physical presence of Ginsburg and O'Connor but also their dependency on each other to get their voices heard over the gender-biased male members of the Court. Their dedication to justice and the law was solid, although O'Connor felt the need to take it slowly like a tortoise while Ginsburg always felt the need to charge ahead like the hare when it came to issues of sexual harassment towards women. Not surprisingly, it finally took a case involving a man claiming to be sexually harassed by another man (his superior) at work for the male-dominated Court to finally pass judgment and outlaw sexual harassment in the work place.
Faracy presents O'Connor as a super intelligent, middle-of-the-road conservative whose ability to honor the law while keeping her constituents' interests in mind when passing judgments in her home state of Arizona, provided the red-blooded all-American blonde could make tough judgments based on the letter of the law as she saw it. As avid golfer, O'Connor served on the Court for 24 years before stepping down to take care of her husband who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, which eventually claimed her life as well. But she never gave up supporting Ginsburg in her mission, letting us see inside the brilliant legal mind of Ginsburg with her ability to tell-it-like-it-is and push buttons in favor of women's rights and the need for gender equality.
Perhaps the most intertwining moment between the two women happened when Ginsburg was in the hospital undergoing treatment for colon cancer in 1999 and O'Connor paid her a visit, revealing she had survived a mastectomy while on the bench and kept it from her male colleagues for 6 years in fear of it making her seem weak, "Schedule your chemotherapy on Fridays," she tells Ginsburg, "so you can be back at work on Monday and no one will be the wiser." But as we all know, Ginsburg's treatments were well-publicized as they happened. The situation, so different than O'Connor's treatments, certainly made her seem more human like the reset of us, and her willingness to be transparent has always added to her popularity to present day, more so after her recent second cancer diagnosis was revealed.
O'Connor certainly was correct in calling Ginsberg the "Mother of the Modern Feminist Movement." Just as Ginsberg was correct in acknowledging to O'Connor that "I would not be me if you had not come first," but that "Treating everyone equally but unfairly is not right or fair." To which O'Connor countered with "Things that make sense in theory don't always make sense in the real world." Two sides of a coin, who somehow managed to respect and truly care about each other as women trying to hold their ground while pushing to make headway into a male-dominated world through the letter of the law. And opening doors for all of us to follow in their footsteps.
And speaking of female empowerment, in addition to Director Patricia McGregor, SISTERS IN LAW the vision of the show reflects the dedication of its all-female design team including Scenic Designer Rachel Myers, Costume Designer Melissa Trn, Lighting Designer Leigh Allen and Sound Designer Cricket Myers. Thank you for your artistic vision in creating such a brilliant ode to theatrical perfection.
Performances continue weekdays at 8 pm; Saturdays, 2:30 pm and 8 pm; Sundays, 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm (dark Tuesday, October 8) in the Lovelace Studio Theater at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, through Sunday, October 13, 2019, To purchase single tickets priced at $60 and for more information, please call 310-746-4000 or visit TheWallis.org/Sisters. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Photo credit: Kevin Parry