nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
August 20, 2011
The program for American Mud is filled with notes, which is fitting, as this smart new play is stuffed to overflowing with references and information regarding women, our history and our rights—or lack thereof—and how progress is being carved out, bit by tiny bit with a kitchen spoon: the suffragettes, women’s history, women in politics, women in Ethiopia, the legal system, cloning science, and women in media to name a few.
We meet Adamaris, the cloned as an adult / perfect woman presidential candidate—or is she? Adamaris is filled with brains, beauty, and strength, but will she have the courage to swim with the sharks? As Adamaris, Jackie Ruggiero Jacobson, who is also the playwright, filled me with hope for the future of American Women. Her Adamaris is tough as nails but also has an oversized heart and palpable love of humanity. Her journey comes in fits and starts, reality and dreams, and we must be nimble to keep up with her.
Adamaris’s creator / mother, the ghost of women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony, strongly played by Marjorie Goldman, seems cold and detached from her daughter / experiment; by giving her “tough love” she also gives her daughter a tough skin to endure the climb to the top of American politics, and I suppose to endure American life as a woman.
The third member of the cast, Charlotte, a young law student / grassroots supporter of candidate Adamaris, beautifully played by Anjoli Santiago, fights like hell not to crack under the pressure of her conflicting roles: dutiful daughter and girlfriend, intelligent student, supportive person and advocate of a better future. Santiago keeps the pace of her lengthy monologues racing, never letting the play lag. She is moving and inspiring in her portrayal of a “regular” woman, trying to make a difference in an unconventional yet traditionally feminine way—by helping someone else. She represents how women can keep their femininity and still succeed, and ultimately find our way to the stars by looking forward, by looking up from the “American Mud.”
As an American woman, I feel no shame in wanting equal pay, equal respect, and equal opportunities. Being a “feminist” does not mean one dislikes men, or can’t enjoy being feminine. Still, I know many people disagree. And the road to receiving equality is long, dangerous, and slippery. I can say from my own experience, taking a leadership position can feel very much like jumping in to swim with the sharks. It takes strong stuff to stick it out, and stay afloat let alone move forward.
This play could easily have become a diatribe about the drag of the “American Mud” sucking us under, keeping us prisoner to our sex, but instead it lets us imagine a hopeful future. Building on the work of our ancestors, maybe we do need to take a moment to “look down” as Susan B. Anthony instructs Adamaris, to appreciate how far we have come, and take a deep cleansing breath as we take hands and push off again out of the mud, climbing ever upward. I left the theatre feeling inspired, and hopeful for our future.