It was certainly fortuitous that I saw a preview of the timely new off Broadway play, Gloria: A Life, about the life and legacy of Gloria Steinem, on the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, the day when the first woman in 55 years won the Nobel Peace Prize in physics, and the same day that Judge Brett Kavanaugh advanced toward a Supreme Court nomination after being accused of sexual assault. I must admit I was feeling somewhat emotionally depleted upon arrival.
The play’s unique structure truly underscores the critical importance of grassroots activism that fueled the women’s movement then and now.
Written by Tony award nominee Emily Mann and directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus (Waitress, Pippin), the multimedia play stars actress/filmmaker Christine Lahti, who gives a riveting performance of one of the most impactful and fearless leaders of the 20th century women’s movement. Gloria: A Life features an all-female creative and producing team, led by Tony winner Daryl Roth.
The cozy theater is set with cushy, colorful pillows on each seat back, to resemble Steinem’s own living room, where she staged grassroots gatherings called “talking circles.”
Presented in two acts, the first half of the show recounts Gloria’s early years, personal journey, and career trajectory. After growing up in Toledo, Ohio, to a roaming antiques-dealer father and talented-but-emotionally-troubled mother who was also a gifted journalist, she eventually moved to New York City to pursue her own writing career. In turn, this led her to New York Magazine, where she was a regular contributor, and later to the formation of Ms. magazine, which she founded with Dorothy Pitman Hughes.
In a true New York moment, Margaret Trudeau, former first lady of Canada and mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was in the house.
The play’s second act successfully recreates a “talking circle,” where Gloria (Lahti) and the other cast members invite audience members to share their thoughts about feminism today. There was an impassioned discussion about the Brett Kavanaugh hearing and the #MeToo movement, with audience members expressing their intense disappointment and despair and their hopes for the future. In a true New York moment, Margaret Trudeau, former first lady of Canada and mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was in the house and contributed to the discussion. “I’m proud that I raised a feminist son,” she added.
The play’s unique structure truly underscores the critical importance of grassroots activism that fueled the women’s movement then and now. I definitely left feeling uplifted, empowered, and ready to take action to help preserve the rights that Steinem and her colleagues fought so hard for.