Friday, October 27, 2023
Things look pretty bleak in the Supreme Court these days, with recent decisions walking back the rights of women and people of color that we've had for decades. But the new play Sisters in Law, based on the 2015 book of the same name, harkens back to a time of hope, although not without struggle, with the appointment of the first woman to the court, and then the second. Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were very different women – in their politics and in their personalities – but they became allies as the only two women in a position long held exclusively by men. The play explores their work and their friendship, and ends with a reminder that their work is not done. The excellent production of this two-hander at Six Points Theater is close to selling out, but select tickets remain through November 5 to see this incredibly relevant, inspiring, and moving play.
The play is constructed as a series of scenes from 1973 through 2015. We see each woman in their pre-court life, then Sandra Day O'Connor’s appointment in 1981 as Ruth Bader Ginsburg watches gleefully from home, then the meeting of the two women as Sandra welcomes Ruth in 1993 and gives her a few pointers, and their frequent debates about the issues of the cases they're seeing. The two women are in agreement that women need and deserve a greater voice in the world, but disagree on how that should happen. Sandra proposes patience, saying women have to put up with a lot of crap like she did, putting in the work, until eventually we're given our rightful place in the world. Ruth demands immediate action, fighting against every instance of discrimination in her role as the country's foremost expert in gender discrimination law. After serving together for 13 years, Sandra retires from the court to care for her ill husband (a decision Ruth neither understands nor approves of), and Ruth is left to continue the good fight on her own. The play concludes in 2015, the two women acknowledging their partnership and friendship that is akin to an unlikely sisterhood, with Ruth dreaming of better days to come (that sadly didn't quite happen as she intended).
Laura Esping as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Patty Mathews as Sandra Day O'Connor (Sarah Whiting photo )
Laura Stearns directs the play with clarity as we progress through the years. Laura Esping and Patty Matthews portray these women's intelligence, drive, and humanity, Laura representing Ruth's impish humor, Patty Sandra's no-nonsense demeanor. The 90-minute play has a lot of short scenes with sometimes lengthy transitions as furniture is rearranged on Michael Hoover's stately set, but we're distracted by the soundtrack of power songs by female artists and a slide show of pop culture and political events that mark the passage of time.
This play doesn't tell the full story of these women or their work, it barely dips a toe into it. But it does give us a picture of them as the humans behind the icons, and their friendship, compromises, and willingness to work together to achieve a common goal that may be decades away. On the night I attended, there was a post-show discussion about equal pay and affirmative action, and it was pretty bleak considering the court's recent decision to repeal affirmative action, and the effects that is sure to have on women and people of coler in education and in the work force. But it ended with some hope, taking inspiration from this duo who paved the way and started a movement that is long from over. Watching their story inspires one to continue their work with grass roots efforts and voting to make our country and our courts more just for all of its citizens. See Six Points Theater's Sisters in Law at the Highland Park Community Center through November 5.