The Woman’s Party Episode 1 Review: The push for the ERA…in the 1940s!

Viewers may first be drawn to Clubbed Thumb’s “The Woman’s Party” because of the fascinating, little-known history it dramatizes, but another reason becomes immediately clear: It’s terrific entertainment.

 The National Woman’s Party, founded in 1916, pushed for passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920; three years later the women in the party pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment. That’s right, the ERA was introduced  into Congress almost a full half century before the Senate finally approved it.

 Episode 1, released yesterday, the first of the three weekly 30-minute videos, informs us of this history and of the individual women who were involved. But writer Rinne B. Groff, director Tara Ahmadinejad and the rest of the creative team serve up a show that is also stylish, funny, inventively designed , and well acted by a cast of ten, mostly women of color, portraying mostly white women who had been fighting (not each other, but for women’s rights) for decades.  

A summary of the story in the episode, entitled “The Plan,” might not sound thrilling: On January 11, 1947, two factions of the National Woman’s Party meet separately in the Alva Belmont House, the old brick house that serves as their D.C. headquarters, one plotting to overthrow the other and take charge of the organization, as it sees a post-war opportunity to push for the ERA.

 But we’re won over from the very first moment, a scene straight out of film noir of the 1940s –  we hear slow jazz music, see a close-up in black and white first of a woman lighting a cigarette, then of the smoke swirling into black air, the the woman’s  eyes,  and finally her full face, as in voiceover she says: “I know you hate me. I know I’m not likeable. I don’t care.”

This is Doris Stevens, “codename leader of the pack,” and she is played by Rosalyn Coleman, as we’re told by the Supertitles – which are not just supertitles, but, cleverly, a character in the episode.

I won’t tell you more – the whole episode is only a half hour long, and it’s free (watch the trailer below, which includes the credits) I will say that it’s available through August, and will be joined by episode 2 on April 29 and 3 on May 6th, and the website with the video (which you need to register for) also provides a useful “timeline of voting and civil rights in America” from 1788 to 2021, links to biographies of women’s right pioneers from Sojourner Truth to Shirley Chisholm.

Author: New York Theaterh

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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