Deb Margolin’s new solo piece about Anita Hill inspires troubling questions as it entertains… plus it really made me laugh

Last night, after seeing Deb Margolin‘s new one-woman show called, “Good Morning Anita Hill… ” at the All For One Theater Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks, I had a disturbing dream. I dreamed that a man I hardly knew had latched onto me and grabbed my breast and would not let go. As much as I screamed and cursed and pounded on him and struggled, I could not break free of his grip. I woke up feeling exhausted and frustrated and helpless. It seems Deb’s play got under my skin.

I remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony – her dignified presence, her calm demeanor. I remember her detailed descriptions of things Clarence Thomas had said to her, things of an explicitly sexual nature that no sane woman would 1) make up and then 2) articulate for a world audience, knowing what that type of exposure would do to her in the public eye. No woman living outside of upside-down backwards world would make that choice, unless she felt she absolutely had to do it. It was clear to me at the time that she had been telling the truth. I remember listening incredulously and with increasing anger to the pundits debating the veracity of her statements. I remember the sinking feeling when I watched helplessly as the white men of the senate made the decision that it was safer to appear sexist than racist and voted to confirm Clarence Thomas as a supreme court justice.

This is the stuff of Deb Margolin’s latest performance piece. The full title, “Good Morning Anita Hill It’s Ginni Thomas I Just Wanted To Reach Across the Airwaves and the Years and Ask You To Consider Something I Would Love You To Consider an Apology Sometime and Some Full Explanation of Why You Did What You Did With My Husband So Give It Some Thought and Certainly Pray About This and Come To Understand Why You Did What You Did Okay Have a Good Day,”  is taken verbatim from a phone message Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, recently left on Anita Hill’s voice mail. The surreality of that act is the perfect cap to the lingering insanity of having a man like Thomas, whose character is in such deep question, sitting in one of the most powerful positions in the country.

This is the jumping off point for the emotional terrain that Deb explores in her latest work-in-progress, a long awaited return to solo performance. She flows effortlessly through a stream of consciousness that journeys from a broad exploration of courage and tragedy to the everyday tasks of our lives. She juxtaposes the bittersweet experience of parenting children who need us less and less (“I’m not over their childhoods the way they are”), to the increasing challenge of making a difference in the world. What is left for us when we have given everything we can, taken back everything we can, reshaped, reclaimed and renounced, but resorting to a big Fuck You? An unsettling landing place, to say the least, for those of us who continue to believe that change is possible, without adopting the violence of our oppressors… and yet, what else are we to think when confronted with the likes of Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars?? The absurdity of it all…

What is happening to our world? What is happening to my spirit? What is happening to my children? What is happening to my life? Big questions, delivered with honesty and poetry and humor. What else could one ask for in a play?

I first met Deb Margolin over two decades ago when she and I enjoyed a brief stint together as part of the infamous Sister Theresa and the All Jew-Girl Band (we were two of the Jew-Girls). We haven’t seen each other in ages, and much has happened since then. But I am happy to say that despite raising two children into near adult-hood, battling cancer, becoming a renowned playwright and solo performer and joining the faculty of the Yale University Theater Department, Deb hasn’t changed a bit. She is still as open and brilliant and affectionate and funny and quirky and might I add, in terrific shape (work that black dress, girl) as ever. And though the play is still in need of honing for maximum dramatic impact, the material is all there.

And who else but Deb Margolin would have the courage to revisit this troubling chapter in our country’s history? In a tight black dress? With high heels? And dancing?

 

PS – A few months after this post, Deb performed her play live on the air on WBAI radio. An archived recording of the January 23, 2012 broadcast can be enjoyed here.

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4 Responses to “Deb Margolin’s new solo piece about Anita Hill inspires troubling questions as it entertains… plus it really made me laugh”

  1. Nice post, Deb.

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