‘Mary and Myra’: Politics and Women on Stage

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‘Mary and Myra’: Politics and Women on Stage

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With the state of affairs during this political election season, politics seems to pop up in every conversation. Discussions may circle everything from policy and practice to tradition and morals, both relating to our upcoming election in addition to similar issues in history. Despite the occasional oversaturation of information and an often negative connotation surrounding political discussions, having politics on the tips of our tongues may not be a bad thing.

Theater has a long history of connecting to current events, often making it politically relevant as well. From Shakespeare’s history plays to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit “Hamilton,” audiences are familiar with seeing popular arguments duked out onstage. This season, Salt Lake also has a new and creative work that highlights how we discuss politics and gender. Pygmalion Theater Company is producing “Mary and Myra,” which opens this weekend on Oct. 28.

The play, written by Catherine Filloux, chronicles the story of Mary Todd Lincoln and one of her close friends, Myra Bradwell. Mary’s son has sent her to reside in an insane asylum following her husband’s death; her friend Myra arrives during the summer of 1875, taking an interest in gaining Mary’s release. Initially, the two seem to have a chance: a combination of the first female lawyer with the former President’s widow ought to produce a good outcome. However, questions of motivation and sanity arise as each woman struggles with their pasts and how they choose to define freedom and womanhood.

Fran Pryun, the director for the production at Pygmalion, describes herself as “a sucker for history and biographies, especially about ‘Women Firsts.’” This interest sparked her imagination with Myra springing Mary out of an asylum. This opportunity also gave Pryun the chance to work with the playwright and actor playing Mary to explore what their version of her would be. Like with many theatrical pieces based on historical fact, the production requires both knowledge of the events as well as an interpretation from the artists and collaborators in order to create the story.

The fact that the events of the play take place more than a century ago does not imply a stuffy period piece. Teresa Sanderson, who plays Myra, found herself personally drawn to many of Myra’s characteristics as if they were still relevant to her today. “Myra was extremely adaptable when they said she couldn’t practice law, she published the most important law journal of the time… She and Mary were close friends and she wouldn’t give up until Mary was free. How could you NOT be attracted to this character?”

Similarly, Tamara Howell described that many of the issues and events of the play felt particularly relevant to the upcoming presidential election. “The historical treatment of women, women’s rights/equality, voting history, feminism, etc., are critical issues in this play and are some that I believe hang in the balance of this election,” she stated. “It adds a tremendous amount of gravitas to this examination of these issues to me, personally.”

“Mary and Myra” runs from October 28th through November 12th at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available either by calling 801-355-ARTS or at www.artsaltlake.org.

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