19th century feminist to visit 21st century Middlebury

Before actor, playwright and time-traveler Kate Redway decided to transform herself into the 19th century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she had never heard of the woman or her crucial role in the battle for women’s rights. But once she learned of Stanton’s enormous influence on the movement, she resolved to bring her story back to life for today’s audience. You can see the result on stage at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, when Middlebury Actors Workshop presents her play “American Radical,” opening on March 3.
The two-act play, based on Stanton’s autobiography, letters and other writings, is a convincing recreation of a surprisingly modern woman, more contemporary than might be expected from a wife and mother in Victorian-era New York. MAW artistic director Melissa Lourie says, “Kate’s performance is magical, and succeeds in making the audience feel like they are in an intimate conversation with this earthy, funny, moving visionary who began the fight for equal rights.”
The play opens on Stanton as a young woman, recounting the spark that ignited her activist career, the death of her brother, Eli, a student at Union College. Her father, who was a lawyer and had placed much hope on his brilliant and promising only son, in his grief said to Elizabeth, “I wish you were a boy.” Stanton wrote, “I threw my arms around his neck and said, ‘I will try to be all my brother was.’ All that day and far into the night I pondered the problem of boyhood. I thought that the chief thing to be done in order to equal boys was to be learned and courageous.”
Although Stanton became an academic star, there was no college for her to attend, so she continued to educate herself. After marrying abolitionist Henry Stanton she realized that even the most progressive factions did not respect the role of women. She continued to look for ways to advance the rights of women. She met and befriended Susan B. Anthony, and although herself housebound by husband and children, she became Anthony’s speechwriter, creating fiery lectures for her to deliver around the country.
In the second act, Stanton in her 80s and near the end of her life, relates the complexities of political change. Redway’s performance makes it clear that Stanton never gave up her principles or ceased her struggle. Because she continued to press for women’s rights when many others in her circle found the abolition of slavery to be a more compelling issue, Stanton lost friends and support. Eventually, when she edited the Bible to be more inclusive of women, and her “Women’s Bible” became a best seller, she was drummed out of the organized suffrage movement.
“American Radical” is strictly speaking a one-woman play, but Redway considers the audience to be part of the drama, on stage with her. She tells Stanton’s story as something that matters very much in these times, perhaps more than ever. Last summer, after Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination for president, she made a pilgrimage to the site of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, organized by Stanton. Although Clinton did not win the White House, more than 70 million women went to the polls to vote, an outcome which would have amazed Stanton and her fellow advocates.
“American Radical” plays on Friday, March 3, and Saturday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 5, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets and Information at: 802-382-9222 or at townhalltheater.org.

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