On Account of Sex - Fourth Wave Theater

Reviewed By Kelly Luck

Fringe Reviewer

August 18, 1920 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote nationwide. In “On Account of Sex”, longtime Fringe fixtures Bryan Colley & Tara Varney present a brief oral history of the fight for women’s suffrage, starting with the Seneca Falls Conference in 1848 and preceding through to the final vote of the final state, a vote swayed at the last moment in a most fitting manner.


The four cast members (Marcie Ramirez, Amy Hurrelbrink, Shelly Clark Wyche and Stefanie Stevens) take on various roles, including Elizibath Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other notable campaigners, as well as various politicians and miscellaneous “naysayers”. Even Fredrick Douglass, who proudly stood in favor of suffrage, makes a couple of appearances. Interspersed throughout the history are a number of contemporary songs straight from Eugénie M. Rayé-Smith’s “Equal Suffrage Song Sheaf”.


It is interesting to note that, unlike some other productions, this one does not shy away from the controversies within the movement: not only the national amendment vs state-by-state, but also the disagreement about whether to support the suffrage of black men even while the women would still be left behind. For all the forward thinking of those early pioneers for women’s rights, their attitude toward their nonwhite campaigners was alas not dissimilar to the attitudes found outside the movement. It is unfortunate, but it is a truth that must be faced if we are to be honest about history.


The presentation was recorded last year to mark the 100th anniversary, and as such is done with everyone remote. It mostly works, but with the occasional technical hiccup (a few timing issues here and there, and sometimes the piano makes the sung lyrics obscure). Overall, however, it is a thoughtful and successful piece, which does a good job of presenting a basically honest overview of the fight in the space of one hour.


The performance concludes with a look toward the Equal Rights Amendment. Passed through congress in 1972, the amendment has spent the intervening years fighting is way through various states, some of which have ratified it only to go on to revoke their ratification, either by “sunsetting” it with deadlines or actively undoing the ratification altogether. Recently, legislation was introduced in a joint bill that would remove all time limits to ratifying the ERA. On March 23 of this year, it passed through the house. As of this writing, it has yet to appear in the Senate.