THE BASICS: MOTHER JONES IN HEAVEN (AND HELL), a musical by Si Kahn presented by Subversive Theatre, directed by Drew McCabe, starring Melissa Leventhal in the title role and Tim Goehrig as “everyone else” opened on October 27 and runs through November 18, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5 (no performance on Sunday, November 11) at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue, third floor (462-5549). www.subversivetheatre.org Runtime 90 minutes without intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In this 11th installment of their “Workers’ Power Play Series” Subversive Theatre presents the world-premiere of a musical – MOTHER JONES IN HEAVEN (AND HELL) – by folk musician, activist, and union-organizer Si Kahn (who sounds a lot like Pete Seeger). Some may recall that Subversive Theatre also presented Si Kahn’s JOE HILL’S LAST WILL back in 2015 honoring that union leader. Mother Jones, like Joe Hill, was a legendary union organizer and fighter for worker’s rights. It’s a memory play as Mother Jones, prompted (or goaded) by a mysterious bartender, talks and sings of her life.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Director Drew McCabe knew exactly what he was doing when he cast Melissa Leventhal as Mother Jones. With make-up she looks like Mother Jones and she sings beautifully. That’s important to know, because sometimes theaters with a mission, full of fervor to deliver “the message,” assume that their righteous zeal will gloss over any imperfections. Well, that’s not a problem here. It’s a pretty good show.
Mary G. Harris Jones (“Mother Jones”) was born in Ireland, emigrated to America, became a schoolteacher and dressmaker and mother, but just after the Civil War, after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867 and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she became a labor organizer, affiliated with the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies), and the United Mine Workers union. Perhaps best known for protesting the abysmal child labor conditions in her time she is remembered for her salty language, her ability to drink strong men under the table, her savvy political intuition, and her 50-year continuous fight for fair wages and safe working conditions. In keeping with the Wobbly view of not separating workers by craft, she considered all workers, whether in the mines or mills, her children.
The musical accompaniment is minimal, a pre-recorded piano track, but it is surprisingly varied and quite enjoyable (Piano Accompaniment by James Calabrese, Musical Direction by Tom Naples, the Stage Manager and Sound Operator was Alley Griffin).
As you are waiting for the start of the musical, you’ll hear in the theater selections sung by Si Kahn who is coming to Buffalo with “Revolution 101 – a subversive folk concert” Wednesday, November 7th at 7:30 p.m. at Babeville (corner Delaware and Tupper in downtown Buffalo).
UP NEXT: TALES OF THE DRIVEN by Subversive Theatre’s founder and artistic director Kurt Schneiderman, a new drama “set in the shrouded mist of yesteryear, this folk tale-esque drama follows a rabble-rousing group of strolling Renaissance players who find themselves at odds with an imperious village priest when their wagon breaks down in the countryside….how far will these thespians go using theatre to speak truth to power? Performances run January 25th to February 16th.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!