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On Stage: women talking across the centuries

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"Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws laws in which we have no voice, or Representation," wrote Abigail Adams in 1775, imploring the all-male Continental Congress to "Remember the ladies" in drafting the blueprint for a rebel nation. This cautionary letter--written to her husband John--argued for the inclusion of women's rights in the Declaration of Independence. Adams's views were unpopular and she was frequently criticized for discussing policy with her husband when he became the second president of the United States. Yet, unlike our current First Lady, she had no public forum in which to voice her opinions. Instead she wrote letters.

In addition to corresponding with her husband during the many separations public life imposed on them, Adams regularly wrote to Thomas Jefferson, members of Congress, and Mercy Otis Warren, whom she admired for becoming a literary and political figure when Adams herself was torn between duty to her family and the desire to use her mind. It was Adams's "morbid debate" that drew Skokie actress Rebecca Bloomfield to her. "The common wisdom of the time was that a woman's body gave purpose to her life, not her mind," says Bloomfield. "Abigail wrote in her journal, 'That cannot be correct.'" Bloomfield developed a play about Adams, using her letters and journals as a foundation for the work. The result, The Revolutionary Mrs. Adams, a one-woman show that Bloomfield has been touring since the summer of 1989, is presented not as a didactic history lesson but as women talking to each other across the centuries.

Bloomfield, who had been a working mother for 18 years, readily sympathized with Adams's concerns. She says, "Was she supposed to be a sit-at-home, at-the-hearth wife? Was she supposed to use her mind? She got criticized for both." Though Adams learned how to rally the friendly press in her defense, she did not escape its scrutiny or ridicule. When, as First Lady, she visited her daughter Nabby in New York, the newspapers joked that no legislation would be enacted because "Mrs. President" had left the capital. When she hung her laundry in the east wing of the new--and very drafty--White House, she was lambasted for acting like a country wife.

After she raised her own children, Bloomfield--a former child actress--returned to acting. She works occasionally with the local Equity Library Theatre, but has spent much of the last four years traveling solo. In 1989, shortly after the play was completed, the American Festival Theatre decided to send Bloomfield to perform the show at the Edinburgh Fringe, Scotland's international performing-arts festival. She says, "I figured I would either get great reviews or I would fail 3,000 miles away from home." But she garnered enough praise from the Theatre Review of Great Britain and the Chicago Tribune to come home, get an agent, and take the show on the road. Booked through January 1994, she spends about ten days a month performing the show, having presented it from Rhode Island to Oklahoma and from Florida to northern Wisconsin. Next summer, for the national celebration of Abigail Adams's 250th birthday, she'll bring her work to the National Adams Site, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Revolutionary Mrs. Adams, produced by Bright Star Enterprises and Equity Library Theatre Chicago, will be presented in Chicago for the first time July 1 through 4 at the Chicago Dramatists Workshop, 1105 W. Chicago. Performance times are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM. Tickets are $10; $5 for children under 12. Call 743-0266 for tickets and information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Schulz.

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