Tag Archives: feminist

Mary Tyler Moore dies at age 80

Emmy-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore, who brightened American television screens as the perky suburban housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then as a fledgling feminist on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on Wednesday at the age of 80.

Moore, who won seven Emmy Awards for her television work, died in the company of friends and her husband, Dr. S. Robert Levine, representative Mara Buxbaum said in a statement.

She had been seriously ill over the past two years, when she was in and out of hospitals and suffered from heart and kidney problems, close friends said. She was a diabetic, and in 2011 she had a benign brain tumor removed.

Moore also was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1981 film Ordinary People, playing a character very different from her TV roles — an icy woman coping with a suicide attempt by her 18-year-old son.

Moore’s eponymous show and The Dick Van Dyke Show were both among the most popular sitcoms of their time, with the former ranking seventh and the latter No. 20 on TV Guide’s 2013 list of best television shows.

Moore, asked by Reuters in 2012 when she was given the SAG lifetime achievement award how she wanted to be remembered, said: “As a good chum. As somebody who was happy most of the time and took great pride in making people laugh when I was able to pull that off.”

Ed Asner, who acted alongside Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, mourned her death on Twitter, writing: “my heart goes out to you and your family. Know that I love you and believe in your strength.”

Longtime interviewer Larry King on Twitter called Moore “a dear friend and a truly great person. A fighter.”

Moore had emerged on television in the early 1960s when many of the women in leading roles were traditional, apron-wearing stay-at-home moms like June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.”

Moore’s bright-eyed Laura Petrie character was prone to moaning “Oh, Rob!” at her husband in moments of exasperation on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but she chipped away at that stereotype. For one thing, she wore stylish pants rather than house dresses and styled her hair like Jacqueline Kennedy’s.

Moore’s Mary Richards character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show went even farther. Mary Richards focused on her career as an assistant producer for the news show at television station WJM in Minneapolis and was determined to fulfill the lyrics of the show’s theme song – “You’re going to make it after all” – as she joyously flung her beret into the air in the show’s opening credits.

While she may have had conservative Midwestern values and been a bit naive and prim, 30-ish Mary Richards was, by 1970s television sitcom standards, a budding feminist. She lived on her own, was not hunting a husband and protested that she was not being paid as much as a male counterpart.

“YOU’VE GOT SPUNK”

Asner, playing Mary’s gruff boss, Lou Grant, summed up her character and their relationship in the show’s first episode.

“You know what?” he growled at her. “You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk!”

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, whose seven-year run ended in 1977, had a solid cast and great writers and won the Emmy for best comedy in each of its final three seasons. It was the cornerstone of MTM Enterprises, the company Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker used to launch three spin-offs — Lou Grant, Rhoda and Phyllis — as well as other hit shows such as The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

One of New York-born Moore’s first entertainment jobs was appearing as Happy Hotpoint, a singing and dancing pixie in television commercials for Hotpoint appliances. In 1961 she was cast on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Moore won two supporting actress Emmys for that show and four best-actress Emmys for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

“I’m not an innately funny person,” she told The New York Times. “I find it an almost overbearing responsibility when I think about having to be funny. I like simply standing next to the funny person. Just being part of what caused the laughter is great fun for me.”

Moore won an Emmy in 1993 for the TV movie Stolen Babies, giving her a total of seven for her career, including one special Emmy in 1974 as actress of the year. She was nominated nine other times.

She was given a special Tony Award for her work in Whose Life Is It Anyway on Broadway.

OFF-SCREEN STRUGGLES

Moore’s life was not all awards and perky television characters. She grew up in New York and Los Angeles with an alcoholic mother, a demanding father and many self-doubts. When she became a mother herself, she felt guilty about not spending more time with her son, Richard, when he was young.

Shortly after Ordinary People came out in 1980, Richard, 24, was killed when a shotgun he was handling discharged — a death that was ruled accidental.

Moore’s 19-year marriage to Tinker ended in divorce in 1981 amid what she said was a lot of drinking and too little talking. She eventually went into rehab at the Betty Ford Center.

During her time on The Mary Tyler Moore show, Moore was diagnosed with diabetes, which affected her vision in later years.

After the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore tried two variety shows but neither caught on. Two other shows set in newsrooms – Mary, in which she played a newspaper columnist, and New York News, starring Moore as a newspaper publisher — also were short-lived.

Moore still appeared frequently in one-off television roles and in plays. In 2003 she quit the Broadway play Rose’s Dilemma, however, after playwright Neil Simon sent her a letter shortly before curtain time saying, “Learn your lines or get out of my play.”

In 2013, she appeared on the TV show Hot in Cleveland for two episodes.

Moore, who became an activist for diabetes research and animal rights, wed for a third time in 1983, marrying Levine, a cardiologist who had treated her mother.

Tinker, who Moore described as her mentor, died in November.

(Reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant and David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Women’s March goes global, 200,000 expected in D.C.

Organizers of today’s Women’s March on Washington expect more than 200,000 people to attend their gathering, a number that could exceed Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.

“In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore,” the statement says from the march organizers.

Women and other groups were demonstrating across the nation and as far abroad as Myanmar and Australia.

In Sydney, thousands of Australians marched in solidarity in the city’s central Hyde Park. One organizer said hatred, bigotry and racism are not only America’s problems.

The Washington gathering, which features a morning rally and afternoon march, comes a day after protesters set fires and hurled bricks in a series of clashes that led to more than 200 arrests. Police used pepper spray and stun grenades to prevent the chaos from spilling into Trump’s formal procession and evening balls.

About a mile from the National Mall, police gave chase to a group of about 100 protesters who smashed the windows of downtown businesses including a Starbucks, a Bank of America and a McDonald’s as they denounced capitalism and Trump.

“They began to destroy property, throw objects at people, through windows. A large percentage of this small group was armed with crowbars and hammers,” said the city’s interim police chief, Peter Newsham.

Six officers suffered minor injuries, he said.

The confrontation began an hour before Trump took the oath of office and escalated several hours later as the crowd of protesters swelled to more than 1,000, some wearing gas masks and with arms chained together inside PVC pipe. One said the demonstrators were “bringing in the cavalry.”

When some crossed police lines, taunting, “Put the pigs in the ground,” police charged with batons and pepper spray, as well as stun grenades, which are used to shock and disperse crowds. Booms echoed through the streets about six blocks from where Trump would soon hold his inaugural parade.

Some protesters picked up bricks and concrete from the sidewalk and hurled them at police lines. Some rolled large, metal trash cans at police. Later, they set fire to a limousine on the perimeter of the secured zone, sending black smoke billowing into the sky during Trump’s procession.

As night fell, protesters set a bonfire blocks from the White House and frightened well-dressed Trump supporters as they ventured to the new president’s inaugural balls. Police briefly ordered ball goers to remain inside their hotel as they worked to contain advancing protesters.

Police said they charged 217 people with rioting, said Newsham, noting that the group caused “significant damage” along a number of blocks.

Before Inauguration Day, the DisruptJ20 coalition, named after the date of the inauguration, had promised that people participating in its actions in Washington would attempt to shut down the celebrations, risking arrest when necessary.

It was unclear whether the groups will be active on Saturday.

The Women’s March on Washington features a morning rally with a speaking lineup that includes a series of celebrities, Scarlett Johansson, America Ferrara, Amy Schumer, Frances McDormand and Zendaya, among them.

Christopher Geldart, the District of Columbia’s homeland security director, said he expects the march to draw more than 200,000. He said 1,800 buses have registered to park in the city on Jan. 21, which would mean nearly 100,000 people coming in just by bus.

Friday’s protests spread across the nation, including to Milwaukee and Chicago.

In San Francisco, thousands formed a human chain on the Golden Gate Bridge and chanted “Love Trumps hate.” In the city’s financial district, a few hundred protesters blocked traffic outside an office building partly owned by Trump.

In Atlanta, protests converged at City Hall and a few hundred people chanted and waved signs protesting Trump, denouncing racism and police brutality and expressing support for immigrants, Muslims and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Nashville, half a dozen protesters chained themselves to the doors of the Tennessee Capitol. Hundreds also sat in a 10-minute silent protest at a park while Trump took the oath of office. Organizers led a prayer, sang patriotic songs and read the Declaration of Independence aloud.

In the Pacific Northwest, demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, burned U.S. flags and students at Portland State University walked out of classes. About 200 protesters gathered on the Capitol steps in Olympia, Washington, carrying signs that included the messages “Resist Trump” and “Not My Problem.”

Trump’s ‘Nasty Woman’ remark becomes feminist battlecry

“Such a nasty woman.” Like many people, 23-year-old Emily DiVito was multitasking while watching last week’s presidential debate, with a little studying and a little Twitter-surfing. But when DiVito heard Donald Trump say those four words to Hillary Clinton, she shot up in her seat.

“The interruptions were so absurd, but that was particularly biting,” she said.

What’s more, the moment gave DiVito, a former avid supporter of Clinton’s primary rival Bernie Sanders, a feeling of solidarity with Clinton — a “moment of connectivity,” as she put it. “I was for Bernie, but moments like this make me proud to be affiliated with her, the way she is persevering.”

That’s good news for Clinton, who despite her lead in the polls, has struggled to connect with millennial voters.

It also was probably bad news for Trump. Days after his devastating “grab ‘em” remarks emerged and he started facing new allegations of sexual assault, the GOP presidential nominee had another bad week, leading some to wonder whether his popularity with female voters had reached rock bottom.

The candidate who so badly needed to close the gender gap instead saw his “nasty woman” remark — accompanied by a wagging index finger — become a feminist battle cry, a galvanizing moment for Clinton and an exclamation point to a campaign dominated by gender.

To Kathy Spillar, the “nasty woman” comment sounded like “the coffin shutting.””

“I thought, ‘That’s it,”” said Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Women voters are going to defeat Trump.” The comment, she said, not only “summed up his whole attitude about women,” but showed how bitter he was about potentially losing to one.

“Losing would be bad enough, but that he has lost to a woman really grates on him,” Spillar said. “That’s certainly clear. And this just fuels the gender gap.”

An ABC News poll conducted in the days following Wednesday’s debate gave Clinton a 55 percent-35 percent lead over Trump among women. Among college-educated white women, the gap was 62 percent to 30 percent. Likely voters, by a margin of 69 percent to 24 percent, disapproved of Trump’s response to questions about his treatment of women. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted before that debate, Clinton led Trump among women by 52 percent to 37 percent.

Also, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released a few days before the debate showed women favoring Clinton over Trump by 55 percent to 35 percent.

The “nasty woman” interjection  — coming on a night when both candidates interrupted each other frequently — went viral.

Spotify tweeted that streams of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” were up 250 percent.

“Nasty Woman” T-shirts were on offer (“Bad Hombre” ones, too.)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, got in on the act, tweeting to Clinton: “From one #NastyWoman to another, you were an inspiration last night.”

“So much of this election cycle has been about the ways men belittle women when they don’t get what they want from them,” said Andi Zeisler, 43, feminist author and founder of the nonprofit Bitch Media. “Now, people are seeing themselves in Donald Trump’s words toward Hillary, they’re seeing themselves in how his surrogates act toward women _ and toward Latinos and anyone who is not a straight white man.”

The “nasty woman” remark, she said, is a “somewhat predictable and almost laughable apex” of what’s been going on all year. But, she added, it is totally possible that there might be a new apex to come.

Throughout the debate, Clinton tried to highlight her opponent’s trouble with female voters, saying at one point: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger.” When it came to abortion, she argued in a pointed way for a woman’s right to control her own body, after Trump said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

That, too, impressed DiVito, who worked for Sanders’ campaign for several months after graduating from Wellesley, Clinton’s alma mater.

“I felt solidarity rooted in pride for a woman who was up there sticking up for other women against a man who has zero interest in trying to empathize with the emotional and physical complexity of abortion,” DiVito said.

It didn’t help Trump that he evoked audible laughter in the audience — despite moderator Chris Wallace’s admonitions to the crowd — when he said: “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

Debbie Walsh, who specializes in women and politics at Rutgers University, said she wasn’t particularly shocked by Trump’s remark, given his other recent statements.

“Gender is front and center in this campaign, and he is clearly using it,” said Walsh, director of the school’s Center for American Women and Politics. She recalled Trump’s saying Clinton had “tremendous hate in her heart,” calling her the devil, even saying he “wasn’t impressed” when she walked in front of him _ interpreted as a comment on her appearance.

“He is the gift that keeps on giving on this stuff,” Walsh said.

For a male Clinton supporter, the moment was a chance to reflect on how women might react when they hear such things.

“I imagined women throwing things at the TV,” said Stefan Krieger, 69, a law professor in New York. “I imagine there are some men that say such things to their girlfriends, their wives, their partners, in a fit of rage. It’s a way of men lashing out with power.”

“I hope I’m not like that.”

Review: ‘Ghostbusters’ a feminist milestone

The easy, electric chemistry of the four leads in Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” acts like a firewall against the supernatural and the adolescent, alike, in this spirited reboot of the 1984 original.

Ghouls and anonymous Internet commentators — who flocked to their thumbs-down buttons ahead of the film’s release — share plenty of characteristics. Each is likely to drool and quickly disappear when you turn on the lights.

Feig’s “Ghostbusters” ain’t afraid of either.

Why should he be, anyway?

In his corner he has the best comic actor of the decade, Melissa McCarthy, the klutzy wit of Kristen Wiig, “Saturday Night Live” standout Kate McKinnon and the big-screen breakthrough of Leslie Jones, the film’s secret weapon.

This “Ghostbusters” makes some winks to the uproar that preceded the gender-swapping film, but it mostly steers straight ahead, too busy being funny to worry much about misogynist detractors.

It does, however, pay a lot — too much — attention to placating “Ghostbusters” fans with the familiar showdowns and iconography of the original two films.

I was proudly raised on Bill Murray comedies, but the preciousness many have over a “Ghostbusters” remake is nevertheless mystifying. This isn’t “Stripes” we’re talking about here. It’s not even “Meatballs.” Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” —equal parts spectacle and deadpan, inspired by “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” — was good, all right, but it wasn’t some sanctified ground never to be trod on again. It already spawned a mediocre sequel, after all.

Here, the iconic ambulance has been traded for a borrowed hearse and cameos from original stars (excepting Harold Ramis, who died in 2014) have been awkwardly forced in. The team, once assembled, is astonished at the sky-high rent required for the original’s firehouse and instead relocates to a Chinatown office above a takeout joint. (The film’s New York overall is refreshingly authentic.)

After an early ghost sighting (featuring an excellent Zach Woods) and the familiar synths of Ray Parker Jr.’s theme, screenwriters Feig and Katie Dippold bring the foursome together.

Wiig is a physics professor trying to make tenure at Columbia but she’s disgraced by her latent belief in the paranormal. Her old friend, Abby (McCarthy, reliably solid if somewhat restrained), has stayed on the case, though, with her eccentric gizmo-making sidekick, Jillian (McKinnon). The bug-eyed, fizzy-haired McKinnon is like a blow torch of steampunk fire to the movie.

Jones, who plays a subway worker, might have been expected to be the broadest performer of the bunch, given the knockout punch of her “SNL” appearances, but her character is impressively grounded. She’s the best of the quartet, though Feig doesn’t give her enough to do later in the film.

Murray, Ramis, et al excelled at finding laughs when nothing was happening, without seeming to be trying at all. Feig’s film never has that anything-can-happen feeling, and it suffers for it. I wish he had let his talented cast truly loose.

Big-budget special effects are the enemy of comedy: they suck the air out.

In a sense, this “Ghostbusters,” which swells to a bloated CGI finale in Times Square, has overpowered one Hollywood specter — sexism — only to be stifled by another: the all-powerful force of franchise-making.

Still, the freewheeling and funny solidarity of the four leads win out in the end, even if Feig shows more timidity than he did in “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” or “Spy.” Chris Hemsworth, playing a ditzy secretary, is one of the most clever stereotype reversals: He’s the office eye candy.

It feels a little like this “Ghostbusters” was a cultural test that we (not the movie) have already failed. Feig’s film may be a feminist milestone: a big ol’ popcorn movie taken over by women (something that should have happened long ago and engendered far less vitriol). But it’s also simply a breezy good time, one that just happens to culminate with four very funny ladies shooting a monster in the balls.

Complaints drive Lands’ End to issue apology for featuring feminist Gloria Steinem in catalog

Wisconsin-based retailer Lands’ End is apologizing to customers for featuring an interview with feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem in its spring catalog and has removed references to her from its website.

The company removed a feature on Steinem from its website after customers complained about her support for abortion rights, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The retailer issued an apology on Feb. 24 after customers complained, including by flooding the company’s Facebook page with hundreds of comments and vows to stop shopping the stores.

“We understand that some of our customers were offended by the inclusion of an interview in a recent catalog with Gloria Steinem on her quest for women’s equality,” the company said in a statement. “We thought it was a good idea and we heard from our customers that, for different reasons, it wasn’t.”

Steinem was interviewed by company CEO Federica Marchionni for the Lands’ End “Legend Series,” which features people “who have made a difference in both their respective industries and the world at large,” according to the company.

“Our goal was to feature individuals with different interests and backgrounds that have made a difference for our new Legends Series, not to take any political or religious stance,” the statement said. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the interview mentioned her stance on abortion rights.

Steinem’s representative at Random House said Steinem was currently in the United Kingdom on book tour and unavailable for comment.

Catholic archbishop seeks to cut ties with Girl Scouts

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is urging priests to sever ties with the Girl Scouts, saying the organization promotes values “incompatible” with Catholic teachings.

The open letter to priests, scout leaders and other Catholics was posted recently on the archdiocese website. It urges parishes that host Girl Scout meetings to consider alternative programs for girls that are more Catholic- or Christian-based.

“We must stop and ask ourselves — is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?” Carlson wrote.

The letter stops short of demanding an end to Girl Scout meetings at parishes, a common gathering site in the heavily Catholic St. Louis region. Brian Miller, executive director of the Catholic Youth Apostolate, said Friday that the letter is not meant to pressure priests into pushing out Girl Scouts.

“We’re asking parishes to evaluate and review what they can do to form the faith of young women,” Miller said.

Carlson’s letter said the archdiocese and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have been investigating concerns about the Girl Scouts of the USA and the parent organization, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, for several years.

Carlson worries that contraception and abortion rights are being promoted to Girl Scouts. The letter also said resources and social media “highlight and promote role models in conflict with Catholic values, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.” Steinem, 81, is a feminist, journalist and political activist. Friedan, who died in 2006 at age 85, was a feminist and writer.

“In addition, recent concerns about GSUSA and their position on and inclusion of transgender and homosexual issues are proving problematic,” Carlson wrote.

Girl Scouts of the USA said in a statement that it “looks forward to extending our longstanding relationship with faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church and Catholic communities, throughout the country. As the pre-eminent leadership development organization for girls of every faith and background, we remain committed to building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began investigating the Girl Scouts of the USA in 2012, not long after lawmakers in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the Scouts into question, and after the organization was berated in a series aired by a Catholic broadcast network.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is particularly powerful in the region given that nearly a quarter of the area’s population — about 520,000 people — is Catholic. Its leaders have never been shy about addressing politically and socially sensitive matters. During the 2004 presidential campaign, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke made national news when he said he would deny communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry, citing his stance on abortion.

Carlson asked each pastor at parishes where Girl Scout meetings occur to meet with troop leaders to review concerns “and discuss implementing alternative options for the formation of our girls.” He said several alternative organizations with Catholic or Christian backgrounds can be offered.

His letter also hinted at increased scrutiny of the Boy Scouts of America.

“While the new BSA leadership policy currently offers some protections to religious organizations, I continue to wonder in which direction this once-trusted organization is now headed,” he wrote.

In December, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the nation’s second-largest Lutheran denomination, ended its official relationship with the Boy Scouts over the organization’s decision to allow openly gay Scout leaders.

KRASS joins Bartell Theatre groups

The performance companies sharing Madison’s Bartell Theatre have a new companion set to join them in 2016: Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theatre, a formerly itinerant company that will likely use its new home to enhance its reputation in Madison’s theater community.

“Short of our actual founding this is the next important step for us, being at the Bartell,” says cofounder and artistic director Jan Levine Thal. “It’s great to be with other companies whose work we admire.”

The troupe was founded in 2009 as “a theater for smart women” and is commonly referred to by its followers by the portmanteau “KRASS.” There’s nothing “crass” about KRASS, though, according to playwright Marcia Jablonski, whose world-premiere play Rumors of Truth will be the company’s first production as a Bartell member theater. 

“(KRASS) is an extremely professional group of dedicated theater creators,” says Jablonski. “At the first production meeting, Sarah Whelan (the director of Rumors of Truth) would express an opinion that I was thinking — as if she was reading my mind. It’s been a collaborative experience that I’ve enjoyed.”

The group’s namesake, Kathie Rasmussen, was a performer and playwright who was a veteran of Madison’s Mercury Players and Broom Street Theater. Rasmussen met Levine Thal when the two worked for the now-defunct Feminist Voices newspaper, and helped her lay the groundwork for the company along with Heather Renkin and Ben Emerich. (Rasmussen was unable to see the company come to fruition, dying in 2007, but the company now memorializes her in its name.)

Levine Thal says the company was designed to be informed by the feminist movement of the 1960s and ’70s, but not defined by it — instead choosing which works to produce with an implicit and organic mindset.

“Kathie and I both went through our bra-burning stage,” she recalls. At the time, “we felt there was a lot of pressure on women to write material that would be appropriate for consciousness-raising. It’s not that we don’t want to do that, but we don’t demand that women have to write about a certain theme, and we don’t demand that women have to direct a certain way.”

It can be a delicate balance, and KRASS’ dramatic imperative is perhaps best made clear by contrast. For example, Levine Thal says, “If you are a male playwright and you bring your work to a contest or a workshop or something, nobody says, ‘Well, it has to have a certain kind of content or we aren’t going to take it.’” In the same fashion, she says, KRASS doesn’t look for a certain kind of work from female writers. “Today I feel that it’s a feminist project when women write about anything they god damn well want to.”

KRASS takes a step forward at a time when the gender disparity in the theater world is more apparent. Nationwide, she says, women represent about 15 percent of the playwrights whose works are produced and, excluding children’s theater, only 15 percent of directors are women.

Levine Thal attributes the company’s survival to the support of fellow theater artists and advocates in the area. For the first few years, TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater shared its space with KRASS for both rehearsals and performances. “We wouldn’t exist without them,” she says. The company also received support from Arts Wisconsin, a statewide nonprofit, and their new Bartell neighbors Mercury Players Theatre.

“To be able to draw on that, to pick people’s brains and offer what we have to offer in return, feels like true artistic collaboration,” says Levine Thal. “Everyone’s doing their own project, but you find that people are still willing to help you.”

Playwright Jablonski agrees. “Jan is great at getting together a team of people who are serious at making the best theater experience,” she says.

Jablonski’s team for Rumors of Truth will have to take on a mix of funny and heavy material. The play portrays three sisters who meet at their mother’s grave on her 50th birthday, and the reminiscences that turn quickly into confrontations.

The story was partly inspired, she says, by studies that show “the clearer you remember something, the less chance it happened that way.”

Rumors of Truth comically explores the complications of the relationships between three sisters caused by unspoken truths and downright lies that occurred within their family,” Jablonski explains. “Through the revelations discovered during the course of the play, they each have to ultimately decide what’s more important: to hang on to old beliefs or to forge ahead and take the risk of forgiveness.”

A veteran of the Second City Players’ Workshop, Jablonski is based in Mineral Point. Her works have been produced and had readings regionally and off-Broadway, where Rumors of Truth enjoyed a staged reading at Urban Stages Theater in 2013.

ON STAGE 

Rumors of Truth will be presented Jan. 29 to Feb. 6 at the Bartell Theatre, 113 E. Mifflin St. Tickets are $20 with discounts available Feb. 3 and at “Sisters Night,” Feb. 4, which also includes a prize drawing. To order tickets, call 608-661-9696 or visit either bartelltheatre.org or krasstheatre.com.

Milwaukee, Madison companies embrace Cinderella’s feminine journey this season

Filmmaker Walt Disney was fond of rewriting literary history, making it more palatable for a post-World War II, white-bread America. The 1950 animated film version of Cinderella may have been his most questionable revision.

The popular folk tale can trace its roots back to the first century B.C. A young girl, fallen on hard times and pressed into demeaning servitude, perseveres against unspeakable odds. Through determination and virtue, she rises to a spectacular level of happiness. It’s a heroine’s journey that resonates in the hearts and minds of many cultures.

Then there’s Disney’s version, where all it takes is a little magic, a beautiful gown, a stylish coiffure and the requisite handsome prince to whisk Cinderella from a life of drudgery to a stunning palace that clearly never requires cleaning.

The magical scenario of salvation through a knight in shining armor enjoys enduring popularity. But isn’t there something inherently wrong with a myth that rewards a young woman’s obedience and beauty rather than her fortitude, strength and human right to happiness?

Milwaukee and Madison theatergoers will have a chance to untangle the taffeta of the Cinderella myth during a season that explores three distinct interpretations of the character.

Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre takes the lead on Sept. 19 with its season-opening production of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, the most popular of several operatic versions of the Cinderella story. On March 28, Madison Ballet mounts the first of three performances of Cinderella. And on May 14, Milwaukee Ballet offers its version of the tale danced to Sergei Prokofiev’s famous score.

What’s behind the eternal appeal of this simple tale? That depends on the version being told, says Viswa Subbaraman, Skylight’s artistic director and music director for the Rossini opera.

“What I like about Rossini’s version is that Cinderella is a much stronger person than she is often portrayed,” says Subbaraman, who has scheduled an entire season of fairy tales and fantasies at the Skylight. “She’s a strong woman who knows herself, and it’s always driven me nuts that she wasn’t portrayed that way in the Disney version.”

Subbaraman has updated the 1817 opera to the present day and employed the talents of New York costume designer and personal friend Cesar Galindo to create a striking contrast between Angelina (the Cinderella character), her wicked stepsisters and, in this version, a wicked stepfather. In this production, clothes make the heroine — and the hero. Virtue and honor, in the guise of clean lines and a “preppie” look, triumph over evil, represented largely by gross consumption and loud, ill-fitting clothes.

Rossini’s Cinderella is diplomatic, honorable and, despite her servitude, the most self-realized of the opera’s characters. In the end she wins out largely because of her virtuous nature, Subbaraman says.

“The performance closes with a strong woman character singing a huge solo,” he says. “It was a pretty revolutionary opera for its day.”

Rossini’s interpretation of the Cinderella character is more in keeping with the traditional story than Disney’s, according to Robin Mello, professor of theater at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts. 

“It’s a story of a hard worker who endures an oppressive system and gets rewarded in the end,” says Mello, who examined the Cinderella myth as part of her doctoral dissertation. “That doesn’t often happen in real life, which makes Cinderella the perfect story of hope and essential for surviving the human condition.”

The Cinderella myth can also be seen as the female counterpart to the hero’s journey, which was explored in-depth by the late Joseph Campbell and is a prevalent theme in literature, theater and film. Heroes have to find the right path and maybe slay a dragon along the path to becoming fully realized. As a feminine equivalent to what is ultimately a masculine story, Cinderella must operate differently, Mello says.

“The masculine hero must undertake his journey to discover his identity,” Mello says. “Cinderella arrives with an identity and has to figure out what to do with what she’s got in order to succeed.”

The Cinderella myth’s strength lies in the incorporation of archetypes identified by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. The animus and anima — the male and female equivalent of the self — and the shadow, which represents the nature of evil, play critical roles in the tale, Mello says.

“The characters of the fairy godmother and wicked stepmother divide the divine into benevolence and evil,” she explains. “The only problem with leaning too heavily on Freud, Jung and Campbell is that they created this masculine way of looking at a story, but never accounted for the feminine experience.”

At its heart, Cinderella is a heroine’s story. The prince plays a critical role that goes beyond merely saving a damsel in distress, Mello says. The Greek concept of hiero gamos — “holy marriage” — is part of the myth. The concept refers to a critical union that’s created for the greater good. In many versions of the Cinderella myth, hiero gamos is attained through the union of Cinderella and her prince.

Using Cinderella’s virtue and triumph for the greater good of the community plays a role in many cultural retellings of the tale, Mello says. In the German version, she’s given land and makes it very prosperous. In the Chinese version, she dies but comes back as a benevolent being who helps her village and her people regain their harmony. 

“There are lots of different endings, but they all embrace the concept that all the upset and hatred and oppression has been made right,” Mello says. 

Milwaukee Ballet’s version of Cinderella next spring takes a more fanciful approach while still following earlier versions of the tale. Prokofiev’s score largely dictates the action, but the story has an intellectuality that appeals to the ballet’s artistic director Michael Pink, who created an original ballet around the narrative.

The ballet opens with Cinderella at the gravesite of her mother. A dove that appears in a tree over the grave, then reappears and drops autumn leaves on Cinderella when she most needs assistance, represents the mother’s spirit. 

While the dove adds a spiritual dimension to the story, the wicked stepsisters, danced by men in drag, add a raucous comic dimension to the performance.

“‘A cock in a frock’ is great English musical tradition,” says Pink, a himself a Brit who once played just such a role.

Even though there will be an ample supply of taffeta, Pink’s Cinderella also is about a young woman who comes into her own. Being saved by Prince Charming is not the lesson that audiences are meant to learn. Instead, Pink wants to present the message that kindness and virtue are the most effective ways to resolve conflict.

“Cinderella is a powerful creature because she has the skill to forgive, which triumphs over everyone else and gives her strength,” Pink says.

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Robin Hood, through the eyes of Marian’s ‘Lady in Waiting’

Whether portrayed by a swashbuckling Errol Flynn or a conflicted Kevin Costner, Robin Hood has always been interpreted more as myth than man. Theater RED, a relatively new Milwaukee theater company, reverses the equation. In its latest world premiere, A Lady in Waiting, the troupe adopts a female point of view that presents the legendary male outlaw on a human scale.

Penned by Wisconsin playwright Liz Shipe (who also plays Maid Marian in the production), the story is told from the perspective of Marian’s handmaid Aria (Kelly Doherty). Shipe says Aria’s quick tongue and sharp insights shed new light on familiar characters like Robin Hood (Zachary Thomas Woods) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew J. Patten), as well as the play’s other Merry Men and royals, thus muddling the usually stark distinctions between heroes and villains.

The play begins with Robin Hood already established as the outlaw prince of Sherwood Forest, so both Aria and the audience are inserted in medias res. “Everything I read positioned Robin Hood as the main character, and that seemed the logical way to go,” Shipe says. “But I wanted to look at Robin Hood through the lens of someone who might not see him as a hero, learning about him as the audience does.”

Shipe says telling the story from a female perspective also gives the play some contemporary flavoring, although she hesitates to label its viewpoint as explicitly feminist.

“The original idea was to create a medieval buddy-on-the-road story for two women and a bunch of fellas,” Shipe says. “(But) over the course of writing it, the play did become much more about what it is to be a woman in any society — which is a great thing to put in the spotlight.”

The unconscious shift in perspective fits well with Theater RED’s creative ethos. Married co-founders Christopher Elst and Marcee Doherty-Elst established the company last year as a way to present premiere works from local authors and plays that offer substantial roles for women and new artists. Their first full production A Thousand Times Goodnight was a particularly good example: an original, Shakespeare-esque adaptation of The Arabian Nights by local writer Jared McDaris that centered on Scheherazade as the lead character.

Neither Elst nor Doherty-Elst had extensive experience or education in theater arts until reaching adulthood. Elst majored in literature and has a background in fencing, with advanced actor combatant certification from the Society of American Fight Directors. Doherty-Elst, a trained skater, majored in sociology and statistics. But the two became independently involved in local productions, learning about theater from fellow cast members as they went along. 

“We credit the theater training we have received from being involved in productions with amazing actors, musicians and directors,” Doherty-Elst says. “We learned from working alongside the best and are often cast in the same shows, which is great fun and nice to have our schedules align.”

Starting Theater RED has allowed the couple to share what they’ve learned with others, including Shipe. She’s excited about sharing her unique vision of the Robin Hood myth.

“Robin Hood’s story has been told from his point of view a lot, and I thought that shifting the focus a bit would breathe some life into the story,” Shipe says. “I hope other people feel that way, too.”

ON STAGE

Theater RED’s production of Liz Shipe’s A Lady in Waiting runs Aug. 7-23 at the Soulstice Theatre, 3770 Pennsylvania Ave., Ste. 2, in St. Francis. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets are $15. Visit www.theaterred.com.

Still the elephant in the room

Thirty-five years ago, as editor of Amazon: Milwaukee’s Feminist Press, I reported on the murders of Heather Halseth, Alice Alzner, Joanne Esser, Janet Marie Bey and Nancy Lynn Radbill. 

They were only a few of the women murdered, raped and mutilated in southeast Wisconsin during the spring and summer of 1979. Adding to the horror was the disgraceful response of Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Breier to feminist advocates: “How many of these rapes do you really think are rapes?”

This misogynist rampage by both criminals and the criminal justice system fueled intense anger that led to the first Take Back the Night protest. On Oct. 19, 1979, 3,000 people marched through downtown Milwaukee demanding “Fire Breier, he’s a liar!” 

The events of 1979 haunt me still amid recent reports of women’s remains found in burn pits, in corn fields, in suitcases tossed onto roadsides. There are also women who disappear without a trace, like Kelly Dwyer, who vanished from the apartment of a male acquaintance. Landfill searches failed to unearth her remains. Increasingly, criminals plan well, knowing that no evidence or degraded evidence means no murder charges.

Even when there is evidence, murder charges are pleaded down and perpetrators get hand slaps. Judge Jeffrey Wagner recently gave 15 years to a previously convicted felon who plugged nine bullets into Alexis Taylor, killing her and her fetus. At that rate, the young killer can serve time for the murders of four more women during his lifetime. 

Then we have defense attorneys who blame victims, suggesting that women like those found bound in suitcases expired in the pursuit of “consensual” sexual gratification. “If it’s a reckless act involving two people, which one is being reckless?” asked Steven Zelich’s attorney. Conveniently, dead women cannot testify as to the circumstances. 

Those are only a few of the most sensational crimes and injustices against women in recent months. Each year in Milwaukee County alone, almost 5,000 women seek restraining orders against abusive husbands, boyfriends, relatives and even children — mostly male. That staggering figure represents a minority of the number of women being abused, those at the end of their ropes and brave enough to come forward.

Congress is focusing on the military’s failure to assist rape victims. WiG ran an editorial tying violence against women to the anti-woman political climate. The Nation, a liberal bastion, ran a cover story about making colleges more responsive to rape victims. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested that since alcohol use is often present in campus assaults, all drinking ages should be lowered to 18.

Well-meaning or absurd, editorial writers keep talking around the elephant in the room. Male violence against women is endemic in all societies, across all cultures, races and economic and political classes. Decades of statistics from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document pervasive patterns of male violence against women and its pernicious effects on families, communities and whole nations.

Better social services and legal accountability are admirable goals. But nothing will change until scientists and health experts focus their research on men. That is where the problem lies. Why do men treat women so brutally? What can be done to stop them? In a classic example of patriarchal reversal, feminists who raised the issue of woman hatred in the 1970s were condemned as “man haters.” 

Evidence of widespread misogynist violence has multiplied since then. We continue to avoid the essential question.