Promethean Ensemble Theatre BLUE STOCKINGS Review - Degrees for Women, a Highly Recommended Chicago Best Play Pick
She’s not radical, she’s respectable.
We don’t want to make waves.
Why can’t you just be content?
Every revolution has to start somewhere. Here we drop into the world of 1860s England where these words swirl around the most recent class of women attending lectures at Cambridge. These women fight against the odds stacked against them in BLUE STOCKINGS.
Promethean Ensemble Theatre and the Uphill Battle
Shelves of books line the walls, a chalkboard stands at the ready, and a heavy wooden table sits center stage. We feel like we’re walking into the prestigious halls at college or entering a library ready to be shushed at a moment’s notice. We’re entering the halls of Cambridge University where one of the first women’s colleges, Girton College, has been established and is pursuing the right for women to graduate.
The women of Girton College attend lectures and study alongside their male counterparts. They feel the world has finally been opened to them as they are able to learn and understand the world around them. However, in the midst of their school year there’s a motion to vote whether or not they should be able to graduate and receive degrees. These blue stocking women might have to risk everything in order to move forward.
Glimpse Into the Hard Won Degrees
BLUE STOCKINGS highlights the struggles women went through to earn their right to not only an education, but to also graduate with a degree. We see the gender stereotyping of the time which many scientists simply equated to “biological differences.” We see the pressure society put on this college not to allow women to get a degree as people stormed the streets in protest. And we see the internal battles of the women themselves as they struggled with pursuing their dreams even if it meant being a social outcast.
All these moments are captured in playwright Jessica Swale’s work (also playwright of Nell Gwynn recently here at Chicago Shakes last year). Some of the lines in the play might strike a deep chord with audience members,-- so eye opening to how backwards the times seemed back then. Men (and even some women) protested against women receiving a degree because it challenged the norm. Even within Griton, the argument for keeping women in the school was still to make home life better. It wouldn’t take away from their duties, only to enhance them allowing them to transcend their gender.
Emotionally Heightened Performances
Many of these lines come from the headmistress, played by Jamie Bragg, as she tries to reason with the male committee who holds the power to grant these women the right to graduate or not. She plays the difficult part of trying to appease those in power, which almost has us crying out in frustration in our seats. But when Bragg delivers her final impassioned speech, she has us right there along with her at the breaking point.
In addition to Bragg who comes at us with an unexpected ferocity, the women students in the cast also stand their ground as they face the adversity against them. Each with their own personal hardships and background --Heather Kae Smith, Julia Rowley, Elise Marie Davis, and Imani Lyvette --make it known they will stop at nothing to pursue their education.
The other professors for the cause Miss Blake and Mr. Banks (played by Cameron Fegin and Patrick Blashill) also might strike a chord with audience members. They both feel like they inhabit the spirit of Robin Williams a la Dead Poets Society as they encourage passion and thoughtfulness from their students all with unbounding and unapologetic energy.
And one would be remiss not to give credit to the other members of the cast who provide the necessary adversaries to this tale.Though most may seem to be here only to get a rise out of the audience, they do round out the tale with pushback and prejudice to set the conflicting scene.
Promethean’s production of BLUE STOCKINGS does an excellent job of provoking emotions from their audience, in this writer’s opinion. We feel hopeful and excited as the women show their brilliance and steadfastness as they fight for their right to get a degree. And we feel our tempers boiling as man after man tries to assert themselves as the superior minds.
BLUE STOCKINGS is an excellent fit for history buffs as well as those who are looking for an impassioned night out at the theatre.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Heather Kae Smith
Elise Marie Davis
Now through October 13, 2019
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30p
Sunday at 3:00p
The Den Theatre
1331 N Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
About the Author
Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.
Editor's Note: Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Alexis Bugajski