Reviewed by Jennifer Benoit-Bryan
Theatre Seven presents the Chicago premiere of UNWILLING AND HOSTILE INSTRUMENTS. The stories of seven women who pushed the boundaries of their times are presented in this production through nine mini plays designed to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of suffrage in Illinois. Theatre Seven commissioned nine Chicago playwrights to tell these stories, including Theatre Seven’s artistic director, Brian Golden, who not only wrote the final play but weaved all the stories together. The opening scene is a modern day rehearsal of this production, and the directors uses this rehearsal space as a touchstone between plays, allowing the actors to talk about modern day connections to the material they are presenting.
While at times a bit forced, the banter between the actors in the rehearsal zones was amusing and at times thought-provoking. In my opinion, the best tie in from history to modern times was the discussion of Jane Addams’ probable lesbian sexual orientation and the importance of identifying strong, successful individuals with homosexuality in modern times. Actor Jessica London-Shields made a heartening appeal for positive lesbian role models. To counterpoint the more serious, the actors joked around a lot with each other; the biggest laugh in the house came from Jake Szczepaniak’s goofy portrayal of what his character wanted to be when he grew up, Ariel the mermaid.
The playwrights offered different snapshots on the lives of the women portrayed, some focused on the barriers these women broke through while others focused more on the personal cost of being the first woman to do something that women weren’t supposed to do. The play Under Threat of Lynching by Carla Stillwell focused on Ida B. Wells’ decision to move to Chicago when threatened with lynching for her writings in the south. Carla Stillwell’s writing was poignant and insightful, the execution of the play was very well-acted by Echaka Agba and Brittney Love Smith. The bonding influence of Mavis Staples’ music was brought out beautifully in Travis Williams’ play Circle be Unbroken. Other plays, such as Cora Strayer and No Place for a Lady, missed the mark of inspiration and interest.
The play’s title comes from a quote from a vocal anti-suffragist in 1913 which proclaimed women to be “nothing more than the unwilling and hostile instruments of creation.” The stories of courageous, revolutionary women brought to life through this production roundly dispute this claim. The show ends with a rallying cry to continue the efforts of these women in breaking barriers and helping the next generation.
Running Time: Two hours and five minutes includes an intermission
At Theatre Seven, 1909 W Byron St.
Written by Seth Bockley, Brian Golden, Ike Holter, Elaine Romero, Emily Schwartz, Carla Stillwell, Nick Ward, Travis Williams, and Lauren Yee
Direction by Elly Green
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru October 27th
Buy Tickets at www.theatreseven.org
Filed under: Theatre Seven
Tags: "Unwilling and Hostile Instruments", Brian Golden, Brittany Love Smith, Carla Stillwell, Echaka Agba, Elly Green, Emily Schwartz, Ike Holter, Jake Szezeppanniak, Jennifer Benoit-Bryan, Jessica London-Shields, Lauren Yee, NIck Ward, Seth Bockley, Theatre Seven, Travis Williams