Luis Hernandez: Artscape producer James Baumgartner and I both saw the play recently, and James is with me now to discuss it. James, let’s start with the setting.

James Baumgartner: It’s the spring and summer of 1972, and there is a lot going on in the world. It’s only a few years after the major upheavals of the late 1960s. We’re in the middle of the women’s rights movement; the Equal Rights Amendment is in the news; so is the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Watergate scandal. And then there’s the 1972 presidential election, which included the first Black woman to run for president, Shirley Chisholm.

Hernandez: That’s the backdrop. The story centers on eight women working at Caposhi Rev which bills itself as a magazine for feminists who love fashion. But it’s only two years old, and it’s having problems getting off the ground. To make more of a splash and bring in some new readers, they hire a new reporter, Gwen, played by Geri-Nikole Love.

Baumgartner: Gwen is a young Black woman, fresh out of Howard University, and she wants to write a profile of Shirley Chisholm and her historic campaign. The rest of the magazine’s writers and editors are white, and some of them are wary of devoting so much space to the outspoken, long-shot candidacy of Chisholm. And that’s the central conflict of the play – the younger, more progressive members of the staff trying to push it forward, some of the older members wanting to hold back a bit. And that was one of the issues of the Women’s movement at the time.

Hernandez: I went to a Sunday matinee, which maybe had a little bit of an older crowd than the performance you saw. And from hearing the discussions around me, I could tell that a lot of the women in the audience lived through this they experienced these changes that were happening for women in 1972. And from the conversations I heard, they appreciated seeing that representation of their experience on the stage.

Baumgartner: There were some moments of the play that were outside the setting of the magazine. Jackie Davis plays Shirley Chisholm, giving speeches across the U.S. as part of her campaign. These help to really give a sense of what it was like in1972 with the Women’s and Civil Rights movements, and the kinds of issues Chisholm was focusing on.

Hernandez: And Shirley Chisholm’s outfits were outstanding. All of the costuming in the play was excellent. It really captured the look of the early 70s: the bold prints and patterns, so much color, the chunky necklaces.

Baumgartner: I read that they used all vintage outfits from the era. In the program notes, the costume designer for the play says that she’s wary of using vintage pieces sometimes because they can fall apart. But this was the advent of polyester which is basically indestructible. The costumes were also an important part of some interstitial scenes where the actors danced to tunes like “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” while being dressed more like 50s housewives than 70s feminists at a fashion magazine. Do you have any criticisms of the play?

Hernandez: The play is showing in Trinity’s smaller Dowling Theatre, which has a shallow stage, but it’s very wide. And there are multiple levels, so there were many times where the actors were talking to each other but some of them had their back to the audience, and that can make it hard for people to hear them. There are also some moments with seven or eight of the women around a conference table, and four of them had their backs to the audience. I was close up but there were moments where I can’t see their faces, I don’t know what they’re gesturing. I may have missed a word or two.

Baumgartner: Well, that didn’t bother me at all. I was able to hear everyone just fine. But, the play occasionally suffered from trying to cover everything that was going on in 1972. They already had civil rights, women’s rights, and Watergate, but then there were two or three minutes about abortion, and a couple of minutes about the Vietnam war, and those just felt tacked on to the script. But overall I loved it. It’s a funny and compelling picture of the struggles of the 70s Women’s rights movement. I recommend checking it out. 

Hernandez: And I’d have to agree. It was a really fun show. Aside from the stage and a couple of technical things, and like you said, shoving too much into this show. All of the performances – two really stood out – but all the performances are fantastic. Just a fun time overall. You can see "The Inferior Sex" at Trinity Rep now through April 16.

Disclosure: Trinity Repertory Company is a business supporter of The Public's Radio. Editorial decisions are made independent of business support.