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Paulanne Simmons

Not For Women Only:
“Gloria: A Life”

Christine Lahti as Gloria Steinem in "GLORIA: A Life" by Emily Mann, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Gloria: A Life
Directed by Diane Paulus
Daryl Roth Theatre
101 East 15 Street
Opened Oct. 18, 2018
Tuesday @7pm, Wednesday @2pm and 8pm, Thursday @7pm, Friday @8pm, Saturday @2pm and 8pm, Sunday @3pm
Tickets: From $55
Closes: Jan. 27, 2019
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 3, 2018

In 1968, when Phillip Morris launched the first cigarette specifically marketed to women, it used the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby” to express the break with traditional roles many women of the time were advocating. Of course, everyone knew women hadn’t really come so far. And fifty years later, there’s still a long way to go.

This bumpy road to women’s liberation is dramatically illustrated in “Gloria: A Life,” written by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus. Both women come with a formidable pedigree. Mann is the Tony Award-winning McCarter Theatre Center’s artistic director and resident playwright. Paulus is the  Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University and has directed Broadway revivals of “Hair” and “Pippin.” What’s more, Gloria is played by Christine Lahti, a veteran of film, stage and television.

It’s hard to imagine three women more capable of telling the story of the iconic Ms. Steinem.

For much of the show, Lahti, in dress, shades and jewelry that make her a Steinem lookalike, stands on the stage addressing the audience, narrating Steinem’s story. But she is also joined by an excellent ensemble playing numerous people in Steinem’s life, and in the movement. They include Gloria’s mother, a talented journalist who, according to Steinem, suffered a mental breakdown after she gave up her career, and various luminaries in the women’s movement, including the fiery and folksy Bella Abzug and many black women who unfortunately have been lost to history.

“Gloria” uses lots of video to bring the audience back to the 70s and 80s and up-to-date. The videos show Steinem as a dynamic leader, but the scenes with her mother show her as very human, with all the doubts and fears that implies.

A Smith College graduate with an interest in dance, Steinem was not a likely candidate for female activist. But, as the show demonstrates, it was her early experiences in journalism (she famously went undercover as a Playboy bunny) and mistreatment by the entitled males she worked for (a New York Times editor told her she could either take the mail or discuss her work in a hotel room – she chose the former) that led her to become the firebrand who eventually created Ms. Magazine with several other female activists.

Daryl Roth Theatre’s in-the-round seating as well as the set, strewn with rugs and taborets, gives the show an intimate feeling, which serves very well in the second half in which women (and men) in the audience are invited to share their stories.

For many, this may be where “Gloria: A Life” really comes to life. Even if most people have not achieved the status of Gloria Steinem, we all have our story to tell. At a time when the MeToo movement is revealing just how many stories there are, telling them may be more important than ever.


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