I’ll confess, prior to attending a Saturday showing of “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” at freeFall, my RBG knowledge was limited to the fact that she was the second female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
I didn’t know what to expect, not really, and the star and only cast member of this biopic, Michelle Azar, blew me away. I’d like to say it was allergies, but I found myself (and other more dramatic audience members) sniffling in my seat when this woman, strong in a cobalt pantsuit, passionately yet casually discussed her pursuit for women and LGBTQ+ rights as well as the details of the times she was wronged.
Azar transforms into Ginsberg, even if she doesn’t nail the old-school Brooklynite accent every time. It feels like you’re really in the presence of the now-dead associate justice of the Supreme Court. It’s in the details: The way she scribbles with her pen before loudly declaring her dissent, or the way she picks up the phone with a familiar snatch.
The play takes the form of a conversation with her fictional granddaughter’s friend, a young person interested in political science. Between the stories and the passionate paraphrasing, it’s easy to forget your actual identity while RBG holds a conversation with the unnamed family friend (you) and details her life, her career, her marriage, and of course, the discrimination she experienced and fought in the courtroom. Person-less voices stand in for her colleagues, and they feel real and angry blowing through the theater seats.
freeFall made use of the stage’s three-piece screen, occasionally using it to show the humans RBG discusses (often her political adversaries, always cranky-looking white men) and sometimes to forge a pseudo-courtroom while she delivers iconic speeches.
But “All Things Equal” isn’t without its issues. Azar sometimes noticeably struggles with delivering her lines, understandable considering she monologues for most of the 90 minutes. It’s hard to stage a good show with minimal (one) actors, even if that actor puts in their all, but freeFall and Azar pull it off, though sometimes the interesting details get lost in dates, times, and court case names that are easy to quickly forget.
But as for the story…
It’s an indescribable feeling, being told you’re not enough due to your womanhood.
Most women know the feeling all to well, it’s threaded in the word “sweetie” when talking to your male-presenting professional equals, in the way you become invisible in a room of penis-holders even though yes, you actually do have experience on the topic at hand. The way women are “harsh” or “a bit of a bitch, right?” when they communicate without smiley faces and apologies. Noted, it’s a different type of gender discrimination than Bader felt when being questioned on her Harvard attendance by the former dean, but a painful one still.
Azar created this feeling on stage, and it’s one we should all remember so we can feel vindicated when we too, dissent.
This show is part of freeFall’s American Character Series, a series that’s told the stories of figures such as James Beard and Billie Holiday, and I’m looking forward to see who they bring to life next.
“All Things Equal” freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Through Oct. 23: Wed., Sat. & Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 7 p.m. $25-$45. freefalltheatre.com, 727-498-5205