“I have many, many supporters. They’re all fantastic people. But they’ve had to deal with some very very bad things I’m gonna have crowds cheering, screaming, begging for more. Because I am the world’s greatest everything.”
Sound like that guy in our political world of late? In fact, the words are uttered, on stage, by a youngish woman aping those of the man she voted for in 2016. The scene takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania, where five members of a local club called the Women for Freedom and Family Group, have met to toast Donald Trump’s win and make plans for his visit to their city. One arrives in a sweatshirt bearing the Confederate flag. That upsets even these women, because it proclaims the racism that may undergird their politics.
Quick costume adjustments follow, and the same actresses are now embodying their husbands. Shortly after, another costume and set change and they become left-leaning women in Brooklyn. That group is, well, planning a revolution of sorts.
This, and more, happens in a new and unique 90-minute play called “53% OF,” a Second Stage production at the McGinn-Cazale on Broadway between 76th and 77th Streets on the UWS. That venue has been shuttered for five years, so that alone is worth celebrating.
The show, written by 32-year old Steph Del Rosso, shines a spotlight on our perceived notions of integrity and ignorance. It veers quickly between every subject of the last few divisive years, including white privilege and feminism.
As for that number in the title? The playwright explains, “In 2016, 53% of white women voted for our 45th president, a statistic that became an obsession for me,” says Del Rosso. “This play is my attempt to find a frank, dark, and funny way to talk about white women – the ones who voted for him and the ones who didn’t.”
“White Guilt Ritual”
The women spend most of their meetings quibbling over whether the others are being “correctly progressive,” and performing a “white guilt ritual” that’s meant to help them confront their own prejudices. Del Rosso’s intended takeaway is clear: neither Republican nor Democratic white women are a monolith, and the two parties aren’t as different as they may believe. A character of another color does make an appearance later.
The current theatrical comparison that comes to mind is POTUS, the Broadway show about seven women behind President Trump. In that production, we never see the man ... well, not all of him anyway – and in this one, his name is not even mentioned. POTUS is a flat-out farce, while Del Rosso is going for something different.
“Mine is of a darker more naturalistic humor,” she says. “The dialogue is fast, with a surprise element in every scene. What’s interesting is that the comedy lands different every night. But I don’t think I let anyone off the hook.’
The director of the show, Tiffany Nichole Greene, says the production was definitely a challenge, “starting with the casting, some had to play on two or three different tracks, transitioning in an effortless way.” Emotionally and yes, politically, it also had to strike a balance. “The play interrogates themes that might make white women feel vulnerable,” Greene says. “I needed to create a safe space and I think we did.”
Even dealing with the set was challenging; white walls for one location, that later reveal a brick background, signifying Brooklyn. Photos subtly change as well. The McGinn-Cazale is up to the task and everyone, from performers to theatergoers, are happy to welcome it back. As for the playwright to have that honor, “53%” is Del Rosso’s first production in New York. Odds are it will not be her last.
Michele Willens’ weekly report, “Stage right...or Not,” can be heard on the NPR affiliate, Robinhoodradio.
“In 2016, 53% of white women voted for our 45th president, a statistic that became an obsession for me.” Playwright Steph Del Rosso