Stepping into Daryl Roth Theatre, just steps from Union Square, now feels like stepping into a feminist time machine. Throughout the lobby and the stairs down to concessions, the walls are covered with covers of Ms.; songs such as “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Woman in the White House” play as you enter. The stage is covered with colorful rugs and ottomans, with stacks of books and pillows the only props, and the theater is set up in an amphitheater style, with those accoutrement in the center surrounded by rising stadium-like seating.
But this is no stadium—the overall atmosphere is one of comfort and ease. This is “Gloria: A Life,” the theatrical production telling Gloria Steinem’s story.
Audio-visual screens introduce the performance, playing clips and videos of Steinem speaking before Christine Lahti enters dressed as the icon herself and begins to narrate their now-shared story. The ensemble cast—Joanna Glushak, Fedna Jacquet, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Patrena Murray, DeLanna Studi and Liz Wisan—will come to take the stage, acting out different scenes from Steinem’s past that span workplaces, protests, colleagues and partners-in-crime.
In the first act, Lahti guides the audience through Steinem’s life. They see her early years—her youth in Toledo and her time at Smith college. They watch along as Steinem begins her career as a political journalist in New York, and even take an inside look at the makings of her now-infamous Playboy expose. They follow Steinem along on a 1969 assignment—covering her first feminist gather in Albany, a protest for abortion liberalization—and travel together, too, to 1977, when she appears at the National Women’s Conference.
Though not chronological, the narrative-heavy play hits all the highlights: the college campus tours, the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, the founding of Ms., even the Women’s March. Audience members meet Steinem’s compatriots, many of whom have been erased from mainstream feminist herstory but offered Steinem pivotal wisdom: Dorothy Hughes, Bella Abzug, Wilma Mankiller, Florynce Kennedy, Pauli Murray, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and Aileen Hernandez.
The second act is a good old-fashioned Talking Circle. “Lead with love, low ego, high impact, move at the speed of trust.” The actors come out and help facilitate a conversation about the play that expands into an exploration of personal stories, feelings about the current political atmosphere, worries and anger. For some, this is not their first consciousness-raising. For others, it will likely be the impetus to host more on their own.
Tony-nominated director and playwright Emily Mann, who wrote Gloria, said in a message to the audience in the playbill that the production “is a very healing piece and it’s a way for people to find a way to cope and to find community.” She added: “We need that right now.” It seems an appropriate salute to Steinem herself for the production about her life to involve community-building, and the cast does an excellent job at facilitating that kind of relationship with their audience.
I left the theatre feeling seen, and heard, and hopeful about the change I could enact with my fellow audience members and my sisters outside of the theater and beyond the city. But most of all I felt that I was not alone—that other people would also come out on a rainy Saturday afternoon to watch another iteration of a story they know so well, just in order to be in a place with others who feel the same way. Just that gesture of solidarity alone gave me the strength to go back to the modern world, beyond the Ms.-laden walls of the Daryl Roth.
After all: If we can come together to watch a play for one afternoon, certainly we’ll continue to come together to change the world. Steinem, I’m sure, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ms. readers can save over 25% on tickets to “Gloria: A Life” on Ticketmaster or by calling 800-745-3000 and using the code GLP65.