A Preview of ‘Lawbreakers! A Fast and Furious History of Women’s Suffrage’
By Chloe Games
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
“I come from a long line of intense women,” educator Ms. Dunbar (Ebony Jordan) declares, just minutes after a nearly all-female cast of characters has erupted onto the Bomhard Theatre at the Kentucky Center stage to Beyoncé’s girl-powered anthem, “Run the World (Girls).” Sit back and enjoy the show, but don’t relax just yet: the women of “Lawbreakers! A Fast and Furious History of Women’s Suffrage” just might spout a line from your own mouth onstage. Throughout the show, it’s disillusioned, strong-spoken Kiara (Ernaisja Curry) who echoes the youngest generation of voters – and their parents – with the refrain, “How is my vote going to make a difference?”
Playwright Diana Grisanti’s “Lawbreakers!” makes a timely debut. 2020 doesn’t just mark the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, it also promises a year-end election that seems poised to widen rifts already fracturing our political and social networks. The history of suffrage that StageOne shows us, while unmistakably entertaining, is riddled with the same problems that plague contemporary politics.
“The play, while fast and fun, is at its core a meditation on sisterhood,” Grisanti explains. “How did the suffrage movement reckon with its own internal rifts?” Sisterhood motivates and propels the play, with step-sisters Kiara and Maya (Amber Avant) taking center-stage as dual protagonists whose differences stand in the way of their relationship. When tensions erupt over Maya’s role in an after-school club, the sisters embark on an accidental journey through the history of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Trey Antonio Wright provides a steady stream of comic relief as a hilarious interloper who conducts the sisters’ journey through time and place as they become an unintentional part of the moving, shaking and unavoidable suffering that incubated change within our country.
“This fast and furious story reminds us that solidarity is not automatic; movement-building, even among your sisters, is not a given. Change takes trust, bravery, alliance and most of all dialogue,” StageOne Producing Artistic Director Idris Goodwin explains. Throughout their run-ins with more “intense women,” the two sisters learn all about the courage, disobedience and coming-together that propelled our politics forward throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They also witness a good bit of betrayal and injustice along the way. Sojourner Truth’s powerful words are twisted in the aftermath of her impassioned speech, and during a stint behind bars, the sisters rally alongside factory worker Josephine. Personifying the multitude of unnamed women whose solidarity gave way to systemic change, Josephine endures a fate quite different from fellow prisoner Alice Paul, a woman whose privileged status wrote her name into our history books.
After following the sisters’ journey backward and forwards through time, you might reflect that the work of thoughtful women is not over yet. Imperfect as they were, the sisterhoods that fractured across suffragist movements of the past nonetheless brought substantial change. Perhaps Kiara and Maya and you and I will find that sisterhood is an antidote to a new decade’s challenges. Bring your sisters and friends of all ages together for this family-friendly performance, and decide for yourself.
You can catch StageOne’s production of “Lawbreakers! A Fast and Furious History of Women’s Suffrage” Feb. 1-8 at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit stageone.org.