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Paulanne Simmons

Rubbing Elbows with Great Women Cannot Replace Home


The Time Travelers Club, Manhattan Division
Written and directed by Barbara Kahn
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue
Opened Feb 23, 2023
Thursday thru Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3pm, April 1-4 Wednesday thru Saturday 8pm
Tickets: $15/$12 seniors, students 212-254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 26, 2023

Emma Lazarus (Nikki Monson) and Dolly (Jamie Coffey). Photo by Joe Bly.

Playwright/director Barbara Kahn, who plumbs the past for inspiration, has returned to New York City in the year 1870 for her newest play, "The Time Travelers Club, Manhattan Division." This time she mixes in a little science fiction.

When Dolly (Jamie Coffey) decided to take a time travelling vacation, she hadn’t counted on two turns of events: her wife, Alice (Arianne Banda) would decide not to accompany her at the last minute, and a defect in the time travelling machine would keep her trapped in the past.

Dolly’s plight is soothed when she meets some very lovely ladies. First is Emma Lazarus (Nikki Monson), the Jewish poet who penned “The New Colossus,” engraved on the bronze plaque installed in 1903 on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Lazarus introduces Dolly to her friends and acquaintances: Georgina Schuyler (Jenna Levere), composer and humanitarian who led the campaign to have her friend’s poem installed on the Statue of Liberty: Sarah Smith (Rebekah Wilson), the first Black woman to be headmistress in the New York City public school system; Charlotte Cushman (Steph Van Vlack), a stage actress whose contralto voice allowed her to play both male and female parts; and Cushman’s wife, Emma Stebbins (Isa Goldberg), a sculptor who is best known for her work Angel of the Waters (1873), also known as Bethesda Fountain, located in Central Park.

Dolly even attends one of Schuyler’s soirees, although she is disturbed by the white women’s failure to invite Smith, something that white women just didn’t do at the time. The evening is enhanced by Schuyler playing her original compositions and Cushman reciting Shakespeare.

But like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Dolly only wants to go home. And it turns out only Alice, worried and guilt-ridden back in the future, can save her.

Kahn certainly does her homework. She takes few liberties with the past, even if she is a bit too eager to turn unmarried women like Lazarus into lesbians. But she does make the past more relevant by creating correspondences with present day issues: feminism, gender identity, racial justice.

If Kahn’s plays sometimes seem like a lesson, the lesson is sweetened by her imagination and heartfelt humanity.

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