On Account of Sex. - Fourth Wave Theater

Reviewed By Chris McCoy

“On Account of Sex” is perhaps one of the most well-researched and cleverly written Fringe shows I have ever seen. Taking its title from the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote, the performance is a feminist history lesson delivered as postmodern vaudeville. Four performers accompanied by keyboard and tuba relay the trials and tribulations of the early Suffragettes in the long and arduous passage of this amendment through innovative staging, crafty character creation, and an elan for political entertainment.

The show is performed in the style of Agitprop (agitation propaganda), a form of political theatre popularized in the 1960s by groups such as San Francisco Mime Troupe, Free Southern Theatre, and El Teatro Campesino. The style uses allegorical characters to deliver political messages with little spectacle through silly, melodramatic acting. While you don't need to know that history to enjoy the production, it helps in understanding this approach to the subject.

The four actresses are from different decades of their life, which powerfully reminds us of the historic progress that women fought for on behalf of future generations.  The only set is a clothesline, and all the props are items traditionally associated with women’s work in the home (sewing, cooking, cleaning, etc.).  Costumes are t-shirts with the image and name of each character, which proves doubly useful as the actresses play different roles throughout.  Characters include Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglas, among many others.

The score is composed of "Suffrage Songs of the Era."  While the performance style is intended to be broad, there could have been a bit more cohesion in the acting and directing to really allow the ingenious writing to be clearly understood. Overall, I found the show revelatory and smiling ear to ear until the well-deserved standing ovation.  This show is suitable for middle school audiences and up and especially of interest to history buffs.  You will heartily laugh (and learn) throughout.

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P.O. Box 415001
Kansas City, MO 64141-5001