Freedom is Not an Inconvenience: HOW SOFT THE LINING

Photo credit: Paul Cantillon, Lidecphoto.com.

Photo credit: Paul Cantillon, Lidecphoto.com. Borders and Hayes sharing a tender moment. Remember folks: intersectional feminism or nothing at all. 

Presented by Bad Habit Productions
Written by Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara
Dialect coaching by Steven E. Emanuelson
Dramaturgy by Phaedra Scott
Fight choreography by Margaret Clark
Nov. 5 – 20, 2016

Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) How Soft the Lining is nearly a performance ready script. It isn’t there yet. There was a lot of good. There was some not so good too. It has a beautiful story that history nearly forgot thanks to history’s disregard for women’s stories. Thanks to Greenidge, we won’t forget.

There is a lot of potential in Greenidge’s script. The relationship between FLOTUS Mary Todd Lincoln and freed slave and seamstress Elizabeth Keckly is ripe with lessons on racial politics, politics that haven’t changed despite hundreds of years of “progress.” Lincoln learns from Keckly that autonomy is more important that convenience. Keckly learns that she has a much deeper well of resources than she knew. They help each other grow in ways that neither anticipates.

The costumes disappoint. This show is about a skillful seamstress and her rich, famous patron. Even if the costume pieces are symbolic, they still are not convincing. Pieces intended to be elegant couture looked hastily designed. The audience could never believe that these were the works of a great seamstress.

Greenidge’s writing is strong but her structure is weak. It’s an important story, and we’re given some lovely dialogue. Yet, the script’s storyline is disorganized such that the audience is confused by unnecessary plot points. We’re distracted by events that matter in the timeline of Lincoln and Keckly’s actual lives but hinder the production. These events are important to history, sure, but we want to know why they matter to our heroines’ relationship. 

Elle Borders plays Keckley with quiet severity. Her’s is a calm insistence that Keckley be seen and understood. Keckly carries the moral weight of the production. She teaches the white people around her that slavery goes beyond mere contracts. Ownership has more to do with entitlement than just money. Borders impresses upon her audience that Keckly was a woman of fortitude and endless patience.

Bridgette Hayes has effusive energy. This role is a natural fit for her. She carries Todd-Lincoln with grace and charm. Todd-Lincoln may be coddled but Hayes’ portrayal tells us that Todd-Lincoln was capable of growth.

How Soft the Lining makes for child-friendly, historical/political theatre. It explains race relations in simple but inscrutable terms. It’s the kind of production that enables an audience to ask questions. All ages are given leave to discuss how much or how little has changed. Based purely on the relatability of the interactions of the white a black characters onstage, not much has changed. We keep having the same conversations. Keep having them. If Mary and Lizzie can figure it out then we all can.

Un/related:
We have elected a tangerine ass-bugle bigot with scrawny hands and terrible hair to the office of the President. The theatre community has every reason to be scared that the national budget for the arts will be slashed. It will be. Certain republicans tend to disrespect experimental, avant-garde, or simply new art. If it challenges the white, straight, hetero status quo, they tend to be against it. New things frighten them with their difference. Belts will need to be tightened. For the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating your art despite this painful bullshit. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. Please keep fighting the good fight.

#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter

 

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