Bunny asks: “What did I know about the women’s suffrage movement? What do you know? Nothing. That’s okay.”
And you do feel that it’s okay. Something in the way Bunny speaks makes you feel calm, welcome. Maybe it’s how she addresses you with wide eyes through thick oversized glasses or her steady pace when she talks or how she’s always either entering or exiting a joke. Whatever it is, you can’t help but smile right along with Rora Brodwin ‘18 throughout her brilliantly-crafted original play in which she personally portrays both herself and her great-aunt Bunny, who filed the lawsuit resulting in Title IX, outlawing sex discrimination in education.
Brodwin flows between her great aunt’s voice, her own voice from the past and her voice in the present as a narrator. The play is more than just the story of Bunny’s legal success: it’s also a reminder of the strong network of incredible female forces throughout history. Brodwin relates this power through her captivating occupation of the stage. She interacts heavily with her props and the story comes alive through tasteful interactive elements. The production feels like a projection of Brodwin’s mind-space as she listens to Bunny talk about her life. We are right there in her head. We hear Bunny’s words and see the story through Rora’s imagination.
This surrealist image is aided by a dynamic set. A floor and two walls transport the audience out of Yale and into Bunny’s home, an eccentric space decorated with an overstuffed couch, a coffee table with books, a small dining table, a fridge, a sink and a dozen bird prints and statues. Many of the decorations are from anti-suffragists, Brodwin informs us, because Bunny loves seeing how suffragists were depicted by those who didn’t like them. The set comes alive with the story. Props travel on and off set so it’s cluttered at the height of Bunny’s work with dishes, papers, file boxes and a typewriter, and emptier at calm moments of reflection. The technical work is as involved and thoughtful as the acting.
The play opens with layers of audio sourced from initial reporting on the induction of Title IX. The lighting is warm and pink and as we hear descriptions of the new measure from voices of the era, and as Brodwin acts out bits of Bunny moments — strumming the guitar, celebrating, laughing. We later see photographs of these moments projected on each of the white walls defining the boundaries of the set.
The set hardly contains Brodwin’s performance. Frequently, she steps off the white floor and into the audience’s space. She holds eye-contact at emotional moments or after delivering an especially coy joke. “When telemarketers call, I tell them Bunny just died. Then they want to get off the line because they don’t know if you’re a close relative. They want to get off right away.” She sticks the joke with raised eyebrows and the hint of a smile, and you’re not sure if it’s Bunny’s or Rora’s.
Brodwin climbs tables, retrieves letters from the ceiling, sits atop a throne of filing boxes and so much more you should witness for yourself. She weaves in and out of her crafted world, keeping the audience wondering what could possibly happen next.
Much of the play’s intrigue comes from Brodwin’s visible pride in her great aunt’s work, however she also makes the performance personally impactful for her audience by highlighting major events on Yale’s campus as they fall in her timeline and specifically detailing Pauli Murray’s involvement in the court hearings. Even beyond the Yale community, the play feels unifying for females as a whole.
Bunny is portrayed as smart but naive of her wit in the humble kind of way many women existed before feminism enabled empowerment. She is shocked when her husband suggests she may have been discriminated against based on sex. “What? No. Sexual discrimination?” She responds at first. But once she realizes, she takes action. Then, other women hear of her work and hundreds of letters flood in detailing discrimination experienced by women around the country who hadn’t realized before that they’d experienced discrimination at all. Bunny takes it in stride, joyfully detailing the novelty of each step in the process. “So I contacted the University saying I’m doing research. Say I need a list of all the faculty and which ones are men and women,” she holds eye contact with the audience, her tone of voice implying this tactic is an experiment, almost a game. “And they give it to me!” These breakthroughs appear consistently throughout Bunny’s story as we watch how she became intimately entangled in the women’s suffrage movement and hear her confidence bolster alongside women country-wide. Near the end of the performance, she reads from a document: “and women were given the vote.”
“Given?!” Bunny is aghast, amused. “We fought for it.”
The show is up in the Hobber Cabaret April 13th and 14th at 8pm.
Julia Leathem | firstname.lastname@example.org