As the saying goes – the more things change, the more they stay the same, and while Trinity Repertory Company’s latest play is set in 1972, its themes may as well be current. Or from 1922.
The premier of Jacqueline Lawton’s “Inferior Sex” probes familiar inequalities women and minorities face. But, her writing is poignant and powerful instead of preachy, and she conjures a production that is very often hilarious.
The story centers on a group of Smith graduates, backed by one wealthy father, who launch a fashion magazine when they can’t get jobs they’d like at male-dominated publications. What happens when Lawton adds razor-sharp political reporting – from a Black woman, no less – and a heavy dose of Black presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm’s moxie to the mix, proves to be a winning storyline.
The production, directed flawlessly by Tatyana-Marie Carlo, breathes vibrancy into Lawson’s creation that is as much part of the experience as characters’ words and actions. It’s a time of unrest as women pick their way through a man’s world, sometimes gingerly, sometimes like petulant children ignored too long.
The characters match that wide range of personalities and Carlos’ casting choices bring new faces to the Trinity stage for an ideal ensemble. There is old-school fashion designer Vera, played by Anne Scurria, who wants to maintain status quo on story choices; the brash and headstrong Joan, who pushes to hire an untested political writer to save the flagging publication; traditional food editor Madeleine, played by Madeleine Russell; and working mother Penny on the opposite end of the ideological range; and, somewhere in the middle, is the magazine’s photographer Alice, played by Shura Baryshnikov, who seems eager for more out of her career.
They are led by Sandra, played by Rachel Dulude, whose father bankrolls the magazine. She uses the work to sidestep a marriage proposal and seems to want more, but when Gwen, the political reporter played by Geri-Nikole Love, gets a Watergate scoop, Sandra fears upsetting her Republican father. Even with this intriguing group, some of the most powerful moments come through vignettes of Chisholm, played by Jackie Davis, on the campaign trail, and the wisdom of the quietly rebellious Black cleaning lady, Connie.
Many personalities make this a very realistic piece, and Lawson’s writing keeps the audience so engaged that two hours slips by without notice. The women, first behind Gwen’s intrepid reporting, then in varying degrees on their own, make their way, conquer fears and embrace the feminist movement.
The seamless way the cast meshes augments the realistic feel of Inferior Sex. From Scurria’s simmering haughtiness to Dulude’s angst about outing her father through the Watergate piece, the Trinity company’s skill is fully displayed. Yet, the newer faces deliver breath-taking performances. Angelique Dina’s facial expressions and body language as Connie, and Russell’s confectionary portrayal of domestic skills are hysterical. Baryshnikov brings a simmering intensity to Alice, and Love blends vulnerability and zeal for Gwen.
Inferior Sex is a wonderfully important piece to launch in Women’s History Month, encouraging women of all ages to follow their dreams no matter the challenge. It runs through April 16 at Trinity, 201 Washington St., Providence. For tickets, go to www.trinityrep.com.