By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Tim Fuller
Feminist history is celebrated by (L to R) Danny (Geri Hooper Wharham), Sil (P.J. Peavy), Mac (To-Ree-Nee Wolf) and Gabby (Susan Cookie Baker).
Are you ready for a hymn of praise to activist women of the boomer generation? Invisible Theatre is ready, opening a bouncy production of Susan Miller's “20th Century Blues” directed by Susan Claassen.
This isn't the kind of blues that makes you sad. It's the kind that makes you happy. Really happy. Or as the New York Times phrased it: “'20th Century Blues' is genuinely sweet. But sometimes it is even sweeter than that, as though Ms. Miller has baked a chocolate cake and then frosted it with sugar cubes.”
Ranging far and wide in Miller's determination not to leave out any women in this celebration of social change, her play also has so many agendas running off in so many different directions it starts feeling like a starburst train schedule of female achievements – and of aging.
Like all boomers, the four women holding center stage are also surprised to discover they are growing old. Consider all we have achieved, they imply, but who thought we'd end up looking like everyone else.
Hollywood used to make movies like this about grizzled old soldiers sitting around a bar in some bombed-out foreign country, telling war stories and feeling young again.
Now we watch and listen as Danny (Geri Hooper Wharam), Gabby (Susan Cookie Baker), Mac (To-Ree-Nee Wolf) and Sil (P.I. Peavy) remember how they met when they were all arrested at the same demonstration of disobedience in 1970. Then for two hours they take turns making brisk comments that skip like flat stones of political moment off their proud counter-culture's irregular surface.
Each person's actual appearance is kept in the spotlight by making the over-achieving Danny a successful photographer who spent the past 40 years taking photos annually of her three friends Gabby, Mac and Sil.
At first the photos were just for fun. But as time passed and Danny became more prominent the box of her friends' pictures began to seem like a project that could boost her own career.
Handily enough, Gabby has retained most of her old hippy, all-natural, vibe. Sil has lived the most conventionally, becoming a real estate agent and considering plastic surgery to restore her youthful appearance.
Mac has stayed the most true to her angry roots as a gay, black female, determined to stand up for the newly declared rights of all three groups.
Adding to the time perspective, representing the portal generations both before and after the boomers are Molly McKasson as Bess the 91-year-old mother of Danny, and 20-something Cole Potwardowski as Danny's son Simon, the guru of digital technology. He shows the ladies how they can stay relevant surfing the 24/7 news cycle on their cell phones.
Stage designers James Blair and Claassen have outdone themselves with an elaborately detailed set representing Danny's New York City loft full of framed photos and arty touches. Maryann Trombino's costumes fit right in, further defining each individual cast member's personality.
"20th Century Blues” continues through May 5 with performances at 7:30 p.m Wednesdays through Fridays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, plus 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. All tickets $35, with group discounts available. For details and reservations, 882-9721, invisibletheatre.com