Women’s History Month is the perfect time to celebrate feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Theater J in D.C. is staging the play “Gloria: A Life,” running now through April 2.
“The show really focuses on Gloria’s career as an activist in the women’s movement, but it also focuses a lot on her as a human being,” Actress Awa Sal Secka told WTOP. “You learn things about her childhood that you may have never known or things about her in her older age that you wouldn’t know right off the bat … things that really were such a huge part of who she was and influenced the way she fought for women’s rights.”
Written by Emily Mann, the play follows Steinem’s journey, from childhood taking care of her sick mother, to later in life marrying animal welfare activist David Bale, making Steinem the stepmother of actor Christian Bale.
“She says in the play, ‘I was always looking for a way to be useful,’ because she was always so used to taking care of someone,” Secka said. “In her older age, she met the love of her life. For a long time she wasn’t planning on getting married and didn’t really want to be married, but at age 66 she met the love of her life. She’s led such a beautiful, full life and you learn really about all of it, not just her activism, so you get to see the full human being.”
Actress Susan Lynskey portrays Steinem alongside co-stars Sherri L. Edelen as Bella Abzug, Mani Yangilmau as Wilma Mankiller and Debora Crabbe as both Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Coretta Scott King.
“They are a part of her, what she calls her ‘chosen family’ in the women’s movement,” Secka said. “At the end of her reflection, she looks back and says, ‘I always wanted a family and I found that family in the women’s movement.’ She refers to Bella Abzug as the mother figure, everything her mother couldn’t be because of her sickness.”
As for Secka, she has a ball playing Flo Kennedy, the African-American activist from Kansas City.
“When I hear the phrase ‘stick it to the man,’ I think of Flo Kennedy,” Secka said. “She does everything in her power to make people hear her. … Her thing about the movement was bridging the gap of showing people that the injustices toward people of color were absolutely connected to the injustices happening to women and that women of all colors should not sit back, they should stand up and make sure that their voices were heard.”
It all unfolds with period visuals that transport audiences back in time to the movement.
“We actually use a lot of projections in this production, which are so wonderfully transformative because there are a lot of pictures from that time,” Secka said. “You see pictures of Gloria and her mom … you see pictures and videos of the most recent women’s march, you see pictures and videos of what people consider the ‘bra burning’ in the protest of the Miss America pageant and a ton of other things that really put us in the world.”
Listen to our full conversation here.
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