Strength of conviction
A Single Woman
Talk about an interesting life! Jeanette Rankin, the subject of A Single Woman, was the daughter of Montana homesteaders. In 1917, she became the first female elected to the House of Representatives, three years before the 19th Amendment gave American women the right to vote.
In Washington, D.C., she declared herself a pacifist and voted against the United States’ entry into World War I. It was an act of political suicide that irked her allies in the women’s suffrage movement.
But there’s more! Her life experiences included a job as a social worker placing orphans in homes, and a trip to India to study nonviolent resistance. Miraculously, Montana’s voters even sent Rankin back to Congress in 1940—just in time for her become the only member of Congress to vote against our country’s entry into World War II, the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. (Say what you will, but she was consistent!)
Playwright and actress Jeanmarie Simpson portrays this feisty, formidable character in an everyday setting: the kitchen. As she talks, she prepares fresh lemonade and bakes dinner rolls. While the cooking moves ahead (and pleasant aromas tickle your nose), Simpson presents Rankin’s life in retrograde. Rankin’s story opens with her railing against former President Richard Nixon and works backward into the 1890s. She occasionally sets down her cooking and moves into a pool of light to read letters illustrating Rankin’s determination and moments of doubt. It’s masterful acting.
Providing a foil and counterpoint is versatile actor and director Cameron Crain, who voices both the praise and frustration of Rankin’s contemporaries. These include Harry Truman, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rankin’s brother Wellington.
The play is a favorable portrait of a fascinating personality, but it doesn’t gloss over Rankin’s thornier dilemmas: What about Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust and the Japanese army’s barbarism in China? The show will find a sympathetic audience among long-suffering, peace-minded lefties. (There were “Kucinich for President” T-shirts in the audience.) However, Rankin emerges as such a gutsy, charming and independent presence that moderates, conservatives and political independents will enjoy her, as well.
This is a newborn play. Crain works from a script pasted in a book, while Simpson reads Rankin’s letters from cue cards. This matters little. The cast comes from Reno on weekends, so the play has a short run. Seek it out, and soon! It’s well worth the effort. Kudos to California Stage for helping with the launch.