Cast of Gloria. Photo:
By Fern Siegel
Steinem is probably the most recognizable feminist in America.
Her impact on politics and culture is profound. So it’s only fitting that her
remarkable life be transformed into a play. After all, her story parallels the
dramatic fight for women’s rights.
and inspiring Gloria, A Life, now at the Daryl Roth Theater, chronicles
Steinem’s biography and underscores her critical participation in second-wave
feminism. Steinem embodies the battle cry of the movement she helped lead: “The
personal is political.”
And there is
little in her life — personal or professional — that is not dictated by sexual
politics. Steinem came of age at a time when women’s choices were restricted,
abortion was illegal and dangerous and sexual harassment commonplace. (“It
wasn’t called sexual harassment, it was called life,” she remembers.)
A Life, Christine Lahti skillfully captures Steinem’s essence, without
devolving into caricature. Smart and talented, her political consciousness is
raised in the 1960s and ’70s. Her activism, aided by women such as Flo Kennedy,
Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Bella Abzug, among others, sparks a revolution in
public triumphs often masked the personal pain of a complicated woman.
by Emily Mann, the play neatly utilizes family photos, news and TV coverage to
expose a sexist America, while positing Steinem as a conduit for something larger
than herself. Enamored of her glamorous looks, the media seizes on her as a
potent symbol for feminism — and a target for outrage. A grassroots campaigner
who spent much of her life on the road lecturing and organizing, Gloria
commingles her compelling story with the zeitgeist.
And it is
But as the
play sensitively reveals, behind the seemingly unflappable Steinem, lay a
1934, she spent the first few years of her life in a trailer. Her father, an
itinerant antiques dealer, was financially unreliable. Her mother had to choose
between career and marriage, leading in part, to a nervous breakdown. Once her
parents divorced, 11-year-old Gloria was left in charge of a mentally ill
makes it to Smith College and New York, determined to be a political
journalist, is impressive. Indeed, as she once remarked: “Some of us are
becoming the men we wanted to marry.”
be stuck in the ghetto of “women’s articles,” she fought to cover politics and
serious issues. Eventually, through sheer grit and vision, she became a
cofounder of New York and Ms. Magazines; the latter’s first
issue, despite all predictions by men eager to see it fail, sold out in eight
Christine Lahti and Fedna
Jacquet. Photo: Joan Marcus
focuses on Steinem’s personal life and activism. Act two is a talking
circle, 15 to 20 minutes, in which the audience is asked to reflect on the
themes of the play.
the Daryl Roth as a theater in the round enhances the play’s intimacy,
providing a you-are-there feel. Deftly directed by Tony-winner Diane Paulus, Gloria
is perfectly paced and heartfelt. Joanna Glushak, Fedna Jacquet, Francesca
Fernandez McKenzie, Patrena Murray, DeLanna Studi and Liz Wisan comprise an
play is also a much-needed history lesson, presented as upbeat and hopeful.
This isn’t a rant; it’s an important examination of a movement that changed
American history and the lives of millions. “I’m not just a dreamer, I’m a hopeaholic,”
Steinem admits. Five decades on, she continues to champion social justice.
tribute to a remarkable woman and a searing reminder of how precarious hard-won
rights can be. It should be required viewing for everyone.
Roth Theatre, 101 East 15th St., New York, NY (Through March 31, 2019)
time: 2 hours, no intermission.