Don't be misled by the title. While the legendary "Red Emma" Goldman may have declared, "If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution," author Michael Bettencourt chooses to focus on one of the most inert epochs in the turbulent life of the famous left-wing agitator once called by J. Edgar Hoover "the most dangerous woman in America."
Our biodrama begins benignly enough, with Goldman living in exile at the age of 62, writing her memoirs and staving off boredom by prying into her secretary's personal affairs. Seeing in the latter's family pressures echoes of her own beginnings, Goldman proposes to recount her experiences to the young woman she hopes to inspire. The episode she selects describes her two-year incarceration in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where she encounters the squalid conditions, brutal warders and rampant injustices expected of such environments. She also meets a pair of fellow dissidents, however, and since this is Goldman's story, these celebrity convicts launch a successful campaign to sow the seeds of feminist unity in their unfortunate sisters.
Whether intentionally or not, Bettencourt has crafted a tale tailor-made for educational purposes. The institutional atrocities, while grisly in narration, are bowdlerized for presentation through being mostly mimed by an ensemble whose appearance only hints at the unhygienic conditions they endure. The sordid setting, which dominates the play's action, requires several energetic female actors to immerse themselves in personalities lowbred, vulgar, diseased and/or mentally deranged. And the prison's workhouse milieu permits the play's director -- in this case, DB Schroeder -- to choreograph one of those "human machine" group-exercises so dear to classroom training techniques.
Milissa Pacelli anchors a 14-member company of players who throw themselves wholly, but never excessively, into their stereotyped roles, reciting Bettencourt's self-consciously lyrical dialogue ("This [ incident ] is a millstone!" says one character. "No, a milestone!" counters another -- oh, and did I mention the commedia-style courtroom scene? ) as if it were home-forged vernacular. Despite their material's formulaic structure, the subtext imposed thereon by their production's partnership with the pacifist-oriented New Thought Chicago advocacy program, and the curiously-seductive funeral march by Joshua Siegal that ushers us into the auditorium of the architecturally-provocative EP playhouse, the Thunder And Lightning Ensemble ultimately makes good on its play's promise of providing us some rousing activist kenesis before we leave.
© Copyright 2008 Windy City Times