Skeletons in the Closet: Louisa May Incest and Calamity Jane Sends a Message to Her Daughter, Green Highway Theater, at Cafe Voltaire. Carolyn Gage is a remarkable playwright, uncompromising in her feminist politics and memorable characters. And Green Highway’s production of Louisa May Incest and Calamity Jane Sends a Message to Her Daughter honors Gage’s unique vision with believable performances and unembellished, solid direction. Carol Roscoe’s stagings, performed by Lisa Friedman and Jennifer Johnson, create compelling portraits of women whose myths have obscured their complicated humanity.
Gage has here chosen to research and retell the stories of Louisa May Alcott, famous for writing Little Women, and Calamity Jane, infamous for her gender-bending life as a stagecoach driver and cowboy. Their stories make a dramatic pairing. These powerful women, haunted by shame and doubt, reflect modern dilemmas as well as historically specific moments. Gage uses familiar foremothers to explore issues of sexual abuse, lesbianism, economic marginalization, adoption, and unconventional heterosexual marriage. She skillfully builds her political point by developing her characters’ individuality, dramatizing specific, private moments when the contradictions in their lives chafe uncomfortably, revealing their weaknesses as well as their considerable power.
Gage is a neglected playwright, probably because her work is unapologetically feminist, but she writes smart, witty, important plays. Skeletons in the Closet is strong-minded, bighearted storytelling. Political theater should always be this satisfying. –Carol Burbank