Heroine…Rescued Voices, Footsteps Theatre Company. This collection of testimonials from women through the ages leaves one indelible impression: independent women have long been seen as carriers of moral contagion. Just as medieval church elders eradicated the proto-separatist Beguine retreats as headquarters of heresy, contemporary reformers of every political stripe pinpoint the “female-headed household” as the harbinger of social collapse. From Mary Magdalene to Sojourner Truth to George Sand, women who have dared to forge their own paths have scared the pants off the patriarchs.

But one impression does not a successful evening make. Director Dale Heinen’s well-researched tapestry of freethinking women comes off as a series of high school oral reports complete with clunky transitions, piecemeal costuming, strung-up bedsheets, and heavy doses of theatrical spoon-feeding. Take Biddy Mason’s story of getting herself and her three children out of slavery and over to the free state of California via mule-drawn wagon: to make sure the point gets across, the narrator (Miss Universe, oddly enough) explains that Mason “may have been one of the most remarkable black pioneers to come to California.” For the most part the cast seem hamstrung, unwilling to make bold or surprising choices, reducing complex historical figures to cardboard cutouts (with the exception of Anastasia Basil, whose performance as a class-conscious prostitute brings the play vividly if briefly to life). Footsteps needs to work a lot harder to do these sophisticated, intelligent texts justice. –Justin Hayford