Review: THE GOOD FIGHT at Babes With Blades Theatre Company

Review: THE GOOD FIGHT at Babes With Blades Theatre Company

Pictured (L to R): Delia Ford, C. Jaye Miller, Arielle Leverett, Scottie Caldwell, Elisabeth Del Toro, and Jillian Leff. Photo by Joe Mazza. 

By Elizabeth Ellis

The noted philosopher and essayist George Santayana wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given today’s regularly shocking and dismaying political climate, these words ring now with an especially uneasy truth. It was just 15 months ago that a tiny but vocal contingent of supporters of the present administration (upon hearing that 538.com founder Nate Silver’s research showed that, if only men voted in the Presidential election, the Republican candidate would win) pondered a repeal of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. Inconceivably, some women posted on social media that they would happily surrender their right to vote to ensure a Republican victory. Few are still alive in most nations who remember the fight for women’s suffrage and how it divided women against their families, their faiths, their roles in society. It’s precisely because this hard-fought-for right for half of humanity is taken for granted that the timing could not be more perfect for this necessary and thought-provoking Chicago premiere production of THE GOOD FIGHT, from Babes With Blades Theatre Company.

In Manchester, England, in the early days of the 20th century, activist Emmeline Pankhurst created the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which was the primary organization devoted to women’s suffrage. Dedicated to “deeds, not words” and operating mostly underground, a cadre of British women targeted their protests not to the injury of those who blocked their movement, but to the destruction of property through arson and bombings, including attacking Westminster Abbey. As the suffragettes were beaten by police, thwarted, arrested and imprisoned, they engaged in hunger strikes, which resulted in the horrors of force feeding. Once released and back to complete health, the women were detained once again and began a cycle of imprisonment and release (the “Cat and Mouse Act”). The WSPU realized their desperate need for protection for everyone involved in their movement, so they created a highly specialized security corps called “The Bodyguard”, with special training in the martial art of jujitsu. In 1914, at the inception of World War I, the WPSU was dissolved, but its considerable actions and influences contributed to all British women over 21 finally being given the right to vote in 1928.

As always with BWBTC shows, fight figures prominently. Choreographer Gaby Labotka does a spectacular job of using the stage and varying elements of combat — billy clubs, martial arts, hand-to-hand — to show the frighteningly realistic violence the protesters endured year after year. Playwright Anne Bertram shows us not just the battles of the suffragettes, but how they deal with these monumental changes as women, wives and mothers. Director Elizabeth Lovelady skillfully recreates the feelings of fear, danger, and pressure the activists faced as they dared to bring their struggles to a greater audience. Rachel Rauscher’s simple and evocative set creates a close urban environment, yet gives a feeling of expansiveness even when the entire cast is engaging in fights. The cast gives strong performances, with standout work from Arielle Leverett, Jean Marie Koon, and Jillian Leff, as well as from David Kaplinsky, Joseff Stevenson, and Richard Traub each playing multiple male roles.

A couple of elements of the show could use some fine-tuning: some of the cast’s British accents are uneven throughout their performances, which creates a distraction from the focus of the plot. As the show unfolds, the women are (understandably) operating in a crisis mode, but the script keeps them there, which doesn’t afford the audience time to see their characters develop much past that place. But those aspects should not keep audiences, especially women, from seeing THE GOOD FIGHT. This is a fine show that will spark many heated discussions, make you question your own dedication and commitment to a movement, and confirm for you the necessity, even now, for resistance.

THE GOOD FIGHT runs through February 17th. For more information visit babeswithblades.org.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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