BWW Review: VINDICATION at Michiana PlayMakers
On April 14th, the Michiana PlayMakers had the world premiere of Vindication, a play based on Frances Sherwood's novel of the same name. This original adaptation is written by Crystal Ryan, the artistic director of the Michiana PlayMakers, and follows the turbulent life of Mary Wollstonecraft, an infamous feminist from the 18th century. Directed by Lucinda Gary Moriarty, the play has its own unique way of telling the events of Wollstonecraft's life and how they shaped her; through a talk show that jumps between interviewing her and flashing back to important moments in her life, all while trying to answer the question, "Who is Mary Wollstonecraft, really?"
An interesting, but certainly not surprising, aspect to the adaptation is the casting of all female actresses for all roles, regardless of gender. While usually this idea could be considered being "beaten over the head" with the association of feminism and an all-female cast, it works for this show. It's successful because not only are all the actresses who play men extremely good at it, but it also creates an intimacy and light-heartedness between the cast and audience. We're here to see an empowering show, bolstered by strong women from our community, but on top of that, we get a kick out of the women playing absurd men, who for the most part, are portrayed as villains in Mary Wollstonecraft's life. By having women play these roles, it's them being able to mock the men and their absurdity, thus showing the vast discrepancy between the men and women, further proving Wollstonecraft's points on women's rights, with us on the sidelines mocking and laughing with them.
As for how successful the talk show and flashback premise is, I think a few more kinks need working out. The switching back and forth between the interviewing (which felt like there wasn't enough of and wasn't explored very fully) and the flashback scenes became muddled at times. Occasionally, there were supporting characters that came in and out of the interview scenes, which caused confusion as to whether we were still in an interview scene, a flashback, or a bizarre meld between the two. The choice of just having a modern host against period characters isn't enough to delineate the two different frameworks if occasionally they get combined or aren't clear cut. While I think the idea behind the talk show part of the play is interesting, it needs to be more defined and crisp on what is what. Additionally, since the flashbacks don't go in chronological order and there are many supporting characters with the same actor playing multiple roles, for a while it was hard to get a grasp on what exactly was going on. The strongest parts of the production were the flashbacks once the scenes had finished changing over. Those were the least disarrayed and allowed for some great acting moments and story progression.
The greatest aspect of the show is the cast. Comprised of eight women who played over 20 roles between them, they thrived as a group. Whether they were playing women or men, or even minor or main characters, each actress was talented in her own way. However, it was April Sellers, who played the supporting character of Joseph Johnson, who really stole the show. Joseph Johnson was Wollstonecraft's friend and publisher, and Sellers absolutely captured the audience's attention as Johnson. Seller's was flashy, commanding, crisp, clear, and unequivocally memorable in her performance. Not just her character as written was enticing, but Sellers ability to bring alive the charming Johnson was what made her the star of the night. She created him in entirety, even if he was just a supporting character, so that when he briefly popped into the story, it was easy to feel as though we were just as friendly with him as Mary Wollstonecraft was.
Vindication is playing three more times this weekend - April 21st through the 23rd. To find out more, visit - http://www.michianaplaymakers.org/
Photo Credit: Crystal Ryan