Erica Kortepeter-Ragan’s play-in-progress, “Conversations in Mary’s Home,” about Rochester’s women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony — played by Keisha Stokes — was a reminder that women were denied the right to vote prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.
A single staged reading of the 35-minute piece was presented Nov. 10 at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Webster to an audience of about 60 people.
A cast of 12, teens and adults, gave voice to the play’s central theme: “we are all a product of a cast of characters,” drawn from what happened on the day of Susan B. Anthony’s death, March 13, 1906. In the words of the play’s Narrator, she “suddenly began speaking out loud the names of all the women who aided her in her many causes: temperance, abolition, suffrage for women.”
The drama presented several of those named individuals, including Susan’s sister, Mary, acted by Gwen Brennick; and fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, portrayed by Amy Yelle, in monologues and vignettes plus a few men such as Susan’s father, played by the Rev. Lance Robbins, of the Church of the Good Shepherd; and Frederick Douglass, essayed by the Rev. Michael Ware, of the Webster Baptist Church.
Kortepeter-Ragan began writing the play 11 years ago as a tribute to her paternal grandmother, Olive Derbyshire Kortepeter, “a strong Quaker [who] gave much inspiration to the theme and words woven together in the play,” she said. “She passed before the play’s first performance in 2006, shy of her 103rd birthday.”
Returning this year to the play’s original text, Kortepeter-Ragan, who also directed the show, added “another layer of action and dialogue,” which helped to illustrate some of the forms of “slavery,” which prevailed in 19th century America, including marriage and clothing.
Traditional period music provided by Jack Brennick, guitar, and Tom Nyman, banjo, along with songs, including the spiritual, “Freedom is a’Comin’,” offered by the cast, added an additional dimension to the play. Bruce Dunn’s provided lighting for the production. The other actors in the cast were Susan Boyd-Marren, Talor Marren, Mark Matzky, Amy O’Neil, Carol Reid and Payton Yelle.
New York State extended women’s suffrage in 1917, the 17th state to do so. New York was ahead of the 31 other states at the time which hadn’t passed such a law. “Conversations in Mary’s Home” is a way to celebrate the centennial of New York’s extension of the vote to women. A re-staging of the play outside of Good Shepherd Church later this spring is being considered.
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