Who were the suffragettes?
In their own way, probably the biblical Eve and politically active women throughout the centuries, but they were certainly the women who gathered in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, a meeting that launched the women’s suffrage movement. , which seven decades later secured American women the right to vote under the 19th Amendment.
Part of its history is told in centuries-old photographs and early movies that show women dressed in their Sunday best, with letters in sashes slung over their shoulders, stars and stripes in their hands as they marched through the streets of the city. city, delivered moving speeches and argued that women, like men, deserved all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
And some of their names are familiar too: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, and Mary Church Terrell. All but Anthony and Stanton lived to vote for the first time on Election Day in 1920.
Then there’s a name that might not be so familiar: Suzy.
She, like so many suffragettes, endured and persevered in her fight for equal rights for all women, that is, in the imagination of the late writer Alice McDonald and songwriter Carol Zadnik, both of Vacaville. Her heroine became best known in her Fiesta Days melodrama “Suzy the Suffering Suffragette.”
Hosted by the Gaslighters Theatrical Company, the laugh-filled family show with all its hissing, heroic stock characters and incidental music returns this long Memorial Day weekend for four performances at The Saturday Club in Vacaville.
Directed by Mary Cornelison-Muehlenbruch, a longtime Vacaville professional photographer whose other calling was musical theater and amateur opera, the production comes after a pandemic-forced cancellation of Fiesta Days for two years.
Presented for the first time since 2011, “Suzy,” as it might be called for short, will also come with a nagging urge to laugh—just laugh and forget about the week’s harrowing news headlines for a couple of hours. And, Cornelison-Muehlenbruch reminded a visitor to his Main Street studio last week, it’s a comedy experience, “rated G,” he added, for the whole family.
“My whole thing is comedy,” he said, objecting to a discussion of the possible modern corollary to the melodrama of voter suppression and gulf-wide political divisions in America in 2022.
As with many other Zadnick-McDonald melodramas, audience participation is an important element of the experience. Boos and hisses are expected as the mustachioed, caped villain makes his entrance, while approving cheers are encouraged for the plucky, brave hero who, naturally, because he doesn’t have much time to make his move – immediately falls in love with the beautiful , innocent and beautiful heroine.
Popular in Europe and the US in the 19th century, melodramas, which de-emphasize character development for the plot, present the villain as the hard-hearted type trying to harm the vulnerable heroine. Of course, everything ends with the triumph of virtue over vice, reason enough for the theatrical genre to disappear at the beginning of the 20th century but remain popular in silent cinema and continue in our time in contemporary film genres like any action movie. starring Sylvester Stallone. , Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson.
“The hero always wins, the heroine always gets rescued, there’s always a happy ending,” said Cornelison-Muehlenbruch, a San Diego native whose studio is surrounded by framed examples of her commercial art, in color and black-and-white: the story. visual of his 52 years in photography, 48 of them in Vacaville.
“Suzy” takes the audience back to the mid-19th century, when Susan B. Anthony was leading the women’s suffrage movement.
Suzy Sweet, played by Caitlyn Waite, is a poor, hard-working young orphan who is hired to be a secretary for a suffrage movement organizer in a small town near New York City.
As the action unfolds, this causes “an uproar in the city, as the men object to their wives becoming involved in such a ‘radical’ idea as giving equal rights to women, including the right to vote,” Cornelison-Muehlenbruch said in a statement prepared from the play’s synopsis. “After all, ladies don’t spend as much time at home as men would like.”
Enter the villain, Milford Malice, played by well-known Vacaville actor Oz Angst, who reprises the role he has played since the Gaslighters revived the Zadnik-McDonald cliffhangers.
Malice, who is Suzy’s cousin, wants control of the town because she has heard that the railway is coming and she thinks there is a wad of money to be made.
The handsome hero, Adam, played by veteran Gaslighter hero Bryan Pro, falls in love with Suzy and is determined to protect the town and the innocent heroine from Malice’s self-centered schemes.
Not surprisingly, as in all melodramas, the main characters’ physical mannerisms are exaggerated, notes Cornelison-Muehlenbruch.
Other cast members include Lizeth Flores as Mrs. Updyike; Richard Potts as Calvin; Shirley McGown as Addie; David Die as Josh; Linda James as Bessie.
Jonathan Burton provides the piano accompaniment, especially the short theme songs for each character. The “card girl” is Riley Gagnon, and the emcee is Cathy Knowles.
Cornelison-Muehlenbruch’s philosophy as a director is more than just shaping a temporary work of art and having the actors adopt and inhabit their characters.
“I’m looking to engage new people,” he said. “To open up new horizons and see people enjoy themselves. I love the theater.”
And, no doubt, he loves the final message of the play delivered by Suzy, which reads, in part: “We must enlist under the banner of the movement that is sweeping our land. It will require great audacity, great dedication and great determination, qualities that we women possess in abundance. It won’t happen in our lifetime, but with perseverance, be sure it will happen.”
IF YOU GO
Gaslighters theater company
“Suzy the Suffering Suffragette”
7:30 p.m. Saturday
3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
3 p.m. Monday
the saturday club
125 W. Kendal St., Vacaville
Tickets: $10 adults; $5 children under 12 years