Smith Presents Feminist Comedy, “Chamber Music”

Sarah Robbins ’17

Assistant Arts Editor

Written by playwright Arthur Kopit in 1962, “Chamber Music” is a one-act play set in a 1938 insane asylum. It centers on eight women in the asylum who all believe themselves to be famous women in history. These women are Susan B. Anthony (Aisha Amin ’17), Joan of Arc (Brittany Caine ’14), Amelia Earhart (Claire Shope ’16), Osa Johnson (Izzy levy ’17), Queen Isabella (Emuna David ’14), Gertrude Stein (Lily Carlisle-Reske ’17), Pearl White (Allison Ristaino ’14) and Constanze Mozart (Hannah Myers ’16).

Sara Kelly ’14, a theatre major and director of “Chamber Music,” chose the play because “For women, figuring out how to empower ourselves in situations in which we are generally powerless is something we struggle with constantly, and I thought this play was an engaging medium to explore that through.”

Indeed, the play does focus on strong women in powerless situations. The women, all considered imposters, are belittled by the male doctor who rules over them. In one scene, he enters the room where the women have just had an argument and looks disappointedly down at the wreckage of their mania. He walks around the room, chest out, chin up, expressing power and intimidation. He threatens to punish the women if they do not calm down and leaves them cowering in their chairs.

Not only are the women dominated by the only male presence in their world, they are also completely unaware of their real identities. Only one of them, Amelia Earhart, could possibly be telling the truth about who she is, as the aviator’s disappearance occurred around the time of the play. “Chamber Music” explores the mistreatment of women by men and how women like Earhart were often repressed and deemed insane because of their independence and strength.

“Chamber Music” was a prime choice for a Smith production, and the actors pulled off the insanity and frenzy of the scenes well. They were not afraid to yell, cry or run around the set to depict the mania of these women trying to protect and validate themselves. The humor was also delivered well, and the audience laughed at most lines. At some points, the actors were almost laughing themselves, which is understandable considering the ridiculousness of their parts.

The set portrayed well the coldness of the patients’ institution, being only two white walls with a window and a round table in between. The makeshift costumes also contributed to the ambiance of the play, representing its absurdity. Queen Isabella, for example, wore a satin skirt held up with two halves of a laundry basket strapped to her sides, and Joan of Arc was covered in duct-taped cardboard as full body armor. She even had an enormous cardboard cross that was often flung around the stage at other characters. The goofy costumes, along with the quick banter between the characters, added to the hilarity and despair of the women, especially when Johnson took out a box of crayons and offered them around as cigarettes.

The play reaches its climax when the women decide to plan against an attack they believe will be coming from the men’s ward. The women run around trying to decide how to protect themselves, and this moment reveals how incapable they are of finding freedom. The play expresses women’s struggles in the real world against an oppressive system and finds itself joining the many great Smith productions.

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