Politics is war. And in this fascinating slice of history dealing with the running for President of the United States by a woman – the very first woman, Victoria Woodhull (Antoinette Lavecchia) with none other than Frederick Douglass (Mel Johnson Jr.), well known abolitionist, woman’s suffragist and orator as her running mate for Vice President we see the backroom machinations of what it was like for them in 1872. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t nice. It was politics as usual.
She was a woman who could not vote. He was the son of slaves. It didn’t help that he was pro Grant (Mel Johnson Jr.) whom he helped get elected. It didn’t help that she was wealthy in her own right and fought for free love, held séances and was accused, along with her sister Tennessee (Kate MacCluggage), of being a prostitute. It didn’t help that Douglass’ wife Anna (Brenda Pressley) feared for her life and the lives of their children and grandchildren and tried her best to talk him out of being embroiled in the political morass they found themselves in. Yes, this is a fascinating subject matter for a play.
Jonathan L. Davidson has done a fine job in telling this story that everyone should be made aware of. Regional Theaters take note! It resonates right down to today’s political climate – where we have Obama in the White House and very nearly had Hillary Clinton moving back in as the first female President. We see the many conflicts, compromises and negotiations that go on in the background – for these political pawns to be able to run for office and what they truly feel. The characterizations are well rounded and extremely well acted. Especially that of Anna, Douglass’ wife. Brenda Pressley is impassioned, honest and raw in her portrayal – and even finds some humor in her performance.
An amazing look alike for Susan B. Anthony (Liza Vann) finds herself at odds with Victoria Woodhull and with the aid of Victoria’s husband, Col. James Blood (Ariel Shafir) is instrumental in causing a major scandal.
Framing the story we have Stevens V (Devin Haqq) – a television host who in a very glib manner warms the audience up to the serious business to follow – welcoming us to the black experience. I liked this device. It grabbed your attention immediately with the help of wonderful video projections before jumping into the intriguing history lesson that follows – where he becomes the original Damon Stevens, reporter for The New York Herald (1872) who wrote many articles following the outcome of this odd political couple. It also closes the show with an unexpected laugh or two.
Director Charles Randolph-Wright keeps the tale briskly moving along from Rochester to Murray Hill to Washington D.C. and eventually to Italy, years after the incident occurred where Victoria and Frederick finally meet face to face. Yes, they never met during the hectic campaign and Douglass wasn’t even aware at first that he had been nominated by Ms. Woodhull. As mentioned, it’s fascinating – and entertaining. At the New School for Drama Theater 151 Bank Street. www.mosonproductions.org