The world premiere of INVISIBLE, a play written by Mary Bonnett, HerStory Artistic Director, Directed by Cecilie Keenan and sponsored by the Oppenheimer Family Foundation, opened on October 3 and will play through November 3, 2019 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Her Story Theater is a theater for social change and this play “fits the bill”. This play is a powerful and suspenseful drama in the tradition of southern narrative fiction that looks back at the nearly forgotten but significant nationwide WKKK movement and its role in promoting bigotry and nativism in the US.
I had never known about this period in history (herstory), but in this play the impact of that time becomes vivid and compelling. Everything about the production came together seamlessly; acting, sets, staging, costuming, projections, accents and a touch of mystery. We enter the story in Mounds, Mississippi in July of 1925 where a very unusual individual Is shouting profanity. Why? The journey to the end of the play and the answer to this query kept me glued to my seat. The scene shifts to a shop where three women of the KKK are preparing flyers for the purpose of getting out the vote since they are feeling empowered, having the vote.
As background: INVISIBLE brings to light the nearly forgotten national Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK), also known as Women’s Ku Klux Klan, and Ladies of the Invisible Empire, which held to many of the same political and social ideas of the nationwide KKK but functioned as a separate branch of the national organization with their own actions and ideas. While most women focused on the moral, civic, and educational agendas of the Klan, they also had considerable involvement in issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion. The women of the WKKK fought for educational and social reforms like other Progressive reformers but with extreme intolerance to race, religion and ethnicity. Particularly prominent in the 1920s, the WKKK existed in every state, but their strongest chapters were in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Arkansas. White, native-born, Protestant women age 16 or older were allowed to join the Klan. Women of the Klan differed from Klansmen primarily in their political agenda to incorporate racism, nationalism, traditional morality, and religious intolerance into everyday life through mostly non-violent tactics with the men often acting as enforcement of those targeted by the women’s Klan. Today we continue to see the techniques developed then still used.
The casting was perfect. Each actor was excellent at developing their character. Barbara Roeder Harris as Lucinda, the driving force behind the establishment of the town’s WKKK chapter conveyed the haughty, judgmental personality. Lisa McConnell as Jubilation was compelling as the indomitable activist and multi-racial woman who challenges the town’s bigots. I loved Richard Cotovsky as the CHICAGO TRIBUNE reporter David Stein. MorganLaurel Cohen brought home the conflicted Mabel Carson. Mabel’s husband Tom, played by Brad Harbaugh, was torn between being a decent person and a loyal KKK member. Megan Kaminsky as the young wife and WKKK member Doris convincingly. Maddy Flemming was outstanding as the mysteriously magical 11-year-old “Ghost Girl”, always mysterious.
Kudoos to the production team Kevin Rolfs (Set Design), Shelbi Wilkin (Costume Design), Parker Langvardt and Jimmy Marcos (Projection Design), Blake Cordell (Lighting and Sound Design), Myesha-Tiara, (Assistant Director), Sean Smyth (Stage Manager), Jamise Wright (Assistant Stage Manager), Auden Granger (Wardrobe Supervisor, Props Manager), Violent Delights and Amber Wutke (Fight Coordinator).
The post discussion in which playwright Mary Bonnett moderating the discussion withC. Betty Magness, Civil Rights/Political Activist, Chicago Women Take Action/ Operation PUSH, and Donna Gutman, Northshore National Council of Jewish Women sharing the connection between the play and today’s world with their own experiences was extremely valuable.
All photos: Michael Brosilow
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