BWW Review: GLORIA: A LIFE at McCarter with Mary McDonnell

Sarah Vander Schaaff

September 23, 2019

Article taken from Broadway World.

GLORIA: A LIFE, at McCarter is an education. For some, it’s a review. They lived parallel lives. For others, it’s a survey course on a woman and a movement that broke down rigid barriers to gender equality. The play, as the title suggests, is about Gloria Steinem, a woman whose work as a journalist and a feminist is inseparable, one gets the sense, from her own inner journey as an individual.

Mary McDonnell, with celebrity star-power of her own, is a perfect Gloria. She navigates the quick scenes and moments of vulnerability with dexterity and glides easily into the public persona of Gloria we are most familiar with-confident, clear, brave, and unifying in her inclusion of different experiences of inequality.

Some of the strongest moments of the play reveal this attribute, especially those scenes with ensemble members Gabrielle Beckford as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mierka Gierten as Bella Abzug, and Patrena Murray as Florynce Kennedy.

Despite the postulate that the play has intense relevance not only as context for today’s battles but as an imperative for action, the play falls short. It celebrates the life of Gloria Steinem as an authorized biography celebrates its subject. Because the woman and the movement are so inextricably connected, perhaps there is an unreasonable expectation that this story must hold the weight of the world on its shoulders. Still, in glossing over the internal conflicts of the woman and the movement (we see them coming from outside, not within) the play drops the ball theatrically, and in spirit, with a disorienting schism between the presented and the lived legacies of feminism.

Gloria, the woman, discovers her voice and her calling. She finds a tender connection with her mother’s heartbreak. And she steps into a rooted appreciation for the traditions of other cultures.

But, our Gloria’s long locks never grey. She speaks to us in bell bottoms until the end, drifting, metaphorically, into the distance like a revered icon of the past. After her story is presented and the years of fighting for equality shift into a conversation with the audience, one still feels a curated theatricality, replicating, but not instigating, a sense of connection.

Script developed by Never Enough Design