A haunting and stunning production of American history can be found in the Theater of the First Amendment’s production of Can’t Scare Me, the Story of Mother Jones. Written and performed by OBIE Award winner Kaiulani Lee – the production sheds light on Mother Jones, one of the most dangerous women in American history. The play runs 70 minutes with no intermission and visits the highlights of this woman’s life and her work during the American Labor Movement. A touching piece that reveals the struggles of child laborers, coal miners, steel workers, and all working people of the time.
The stage is a plain wooden floor, decorated only by the wooden rocking chair and two wooden boxes. Long screens drape as a backdrop – painted with the hazy outlines of the mountainous landscape of America laid over with blue lighting to depict twilight. Set Designer Luciana Stecconi works in tandem with lighting designer Timothy M. Chew to create an atmosphere worthy of the stunning solo performance. Using creative lighting cast against the screens indicates the passage of time, of place, and of Mother Jones’ emotions. Images of actual historical photos are projected onto the screens throughout the show to enhance the stories as they unfold. This unique technique brings a sense of realism to the conflict at hand. The eyes are met with bright yellows during the happier times and as she transitions from Chicago to Memphis, and subdued blues when stoic moments of sadness escape into the tale. Chew even creates a prison using striped lighting in a corner of the otherwise darkened stage. A unique display set to an enthralling piece.
Kaiulani Lee delivers an absolutely captivating performance as Mother Jones. Her use of spacing is effective and moving. When she moves she moves with intent to the story she is telling, and when she stands still and glares hard into the audience she drives the point home. Lee speaks with compassion; reaching vocal crescendos that drive the emotion behind her speech when protesting. Her animated story-telling keeps the audience in rapt attention as she relives each moment as if she is no longer in the present but truly standing with children of labor, or protesting against the men with guns. Her eyes are truly haunted when she delivers her more painful memories, one particular scene so chilling that you almost need to look away when she’s describing the plague of yellow fever in Memphis. Lee maintains a flawless and coherent Irish accent for the duration of the piece and never mumbles even when whispering. A stunning performance that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of as she brings new life to a dark era in history.
For a lively account of history told through the eyes and mouth of a talented woman you must make the trek down to The Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC to see the world premiere of Can’t Scare Me, the Story of Mother Jones.
Can’t Scare Me, the Story of Mother Jones plays through October 30, 2011, at Theater of the First Amendment at The Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online, or call the box office (202) 399-7993.