BWW Review: BLUE STOCKINGS at Commonwealth Theatre Center
Review by Kate Barry
If you were fortunate to be in the opening night audience of Commonwealth Theater Company's (CTC) production of Blue Stockings, you had the privilege to witness not only a brilliant performance but also a pre-show panel discussion entitled "Leadership, Representation, and the Impact of Women in Higher Education: Past, Present & Future" with Sadiqa Reynolds, President & CEO, Louisville Urban League, Inc., Tori Murden McClure, President of Spalding University, Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Louisville, and CTC Outreach Director and production director Heather Burns. This discussion addressed the struggles of gender inequality and opportunity in the collegiate field. Diving into hard-hitting questions such as: is there room for all of us (all genders), and are women feeling more valued? while shedding light on the power of competence versus dominance, the panel provided a thought-provoking meditation for themes of suffrage and rights in Blue Stockings.
Set in a world where learning is literally a white man's privilege, this production is simple, concise and relatable on many levels. The story follows four young intelligent women who are students at Girton College but with bold desires to attend the neighboring all-male Trinity College. Beyond the struggle to earn the right to attend a legit college, each woman faces choices and demands with consequences for their educational opportunities. London Camba plays Tess, the heroine of the piece, who is the brightest of the band of ladies and brings a tender, forceful confidence as the top scholar. As Tess's goals and attention shift from matters of study to matters of the heart, Camba's portrayal of a young woman unsure of what she wants due to societal expectations was authentic and brave.
While at Girton, Tess is joined by Celia, Carolyn, and Maeve. As an ensemble, these young actors bring great dynamic chemistry full of support and care. As Carolyn, Alexandra Polur Gold is comic relief with stories of travels to far off places and quick-witted schemes. Polur Gold is an absolute hoot in this part. Sydney Snyder as Celia and Sara Seim as Maeve present toned down performances as women who are challenged with pressures in their own right. Where Seim brings tragic nuance to a woman who must give up everything she worked hard for, Gold's Carolyn is a woman who is subtly building herself up to achieve academic success.
Taylor Broder brings contemporary "I'm with her" feminist flair to her performance as Miss Blake while Hermione Bean-Mills has pinpoint precision in her comedic timing as the resident caretaker, Miss Bott. Meg Caudill provides an admirable performance and an example for her young castmates as Ms. Welsh. Balanced in her role, Caudill's headmistress is ripe with firm discipline and sage wisdom as she advises her students to move forward. "No one can take away knowledge," she exclaims; a phrase that reflects our current climate.
If the women of Girton College are fighting for change, their male counterparts fight for things to stay the same. But I would hardly call this a battle of the sexes, just a battle for what is right. Connor Madison displays self-righteous sexism within his "We made this nation" speech as Lloyd, a Trinity College student. Madison is tough and unwavering throughout the performance with an attitude that echoes the "nasty woman" remarks made during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
The young male actors who portray the Trinity College students (Killian Meaney, Jackson Guarino-Sanders, Ruairidh Kerr, and Madison) are sweet in their naiveté yet heartbreaking as they discuss and react to women who choose studies before childbirth, or the shocking act of a woman riding a bike. Roscoe Lindsay-Bruns provides some forward thinking as Mr. Banks with his expansion of worldview through the power of knowledge. Peyton Stockdale provides support and yearning romantic interest for Tess as the forward-thinking student, Will.
At the top of the play, CTC Artistic Director Charlie Sexton appears as the headmaster of Trinity College, Dr. Maudsley. In his lecture, he makes a strong argument for women to explore motherhood instead of seeking a college degree, an absurdly archaic perspective to modern ears. A point of view that has altered and progressed since the early 1900s, and yet this play was a reminder of opportunities still not presented to everyone and the persistence of the thick glass ceiling that needs shattering.
September 20-29, 2018
Commonwealth Theater Center
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204