Through November 18 |
MOTHER JONES IN HEAVEN (AND HELL) Many Fried Playhouse/Subversive Theatre
“Mother Jones” is a magazine, seen by many.
What potentially few know is that the progressive magazine is named for a well-known labor organizer and radical unionist.
That’s who is memorialized in Si Kahn’s “Mother Jones in Heaven (and Hell),” this year’s entry in Subversive Theater’s “Workers’ Power Play Series” in the Manny Fried Playhouse, an appropriate venue for a play about labor radicals.
Past entries in this series have been large cast and long shows.
That includes Kahn’s “Joe Hill’s Last Will,” commemorating his 1915 execution.
Kahn is a long-time musical agitator in North Carolina.
This is a two-character musical, recognizing how much music there has been in labor struggles in Mary G. Harris Jones’ long life and career.
She began with birth as a Catholic in Ireland, when that was about the lowest kind of life on the Emerald Isle, until she and her family were driven out by the Famine and off to Toronto.
As a young teacher, she married and had children, only to lose husband and all four children to yellow fever and then to see her seamstress business destroyed by the Chicago Fire of 1871.
That’s where she drifted into the labor movement, especially with the Knights of Labor.
She organized and led workers through the tumultuous and bloody labor/management struggles of the last decades of the 19th Century and into the 20th.
She was attacked as “the most dangerous woman in America,” by a prosecutor emphasizing her role in a coal miner’s strike.
She survived this and later violent strikes, preaching, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
Here, Kahn has created Mother Jones (Melissa Leventhal) and everyone else.
That’s everyone else, male and female, as performed by Tim Goehrig.
The premise isn’t completely clear.
There’s a bar and Mother Jones arrives, apparently after she finally died at 93, buried in Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, surrounded by miners who died in a strike battle in 1898.
It’s a science fictiony kind of story, the bar at the end of space where ship captains meet to share their burdens or different species meet, like the “Star Wars’” Mos Eisley bar.
Here, Mother Jones uses music to confront her life and the good and bad and the ugly she has done in those long decades.
The songs lament “I Was There” and “I Have Known Women” in kind of a bluegrass style, Kahn’s style.
Director Drew McCabe benefits from Leventhal’s strong singing voice and Goehrig’s everyone else‘s voice.
Subversive isn’t known for its costume or set budgets and that’s true here, although Chris Wilson’s set design makes its point.
“Mother Jones in Heaven (and Hell)” is a polemic, an entertaining and musical polemic, featuring some strong singing and a very specific point of view from a time when labor and management fights involved guns and ammunitions and clubs, and fewer legal struggles.
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