Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Oct 29 – Dec 23, 2022
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Heather Mitchell
Images by Prudence Upton
Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Unites States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not the first woman appointed to that position, but is certainly the most famous feminist icon to have emerged from that Court. In Suzie Miller’s RBG: Of Many, One we get acquainted with Ginsburg’s significant legacy as a trailblazer, and witness the ways in which she had left an indelible mark, on the most patriarchal of boys’ clubs. Ginsburg’s personal life was an immaculate one, devoid of scandal or controversy, but playwright Miller is nonetheless able to excavate at the most important of her professional achievements, to compose a work that informs and inspires.
A worthy tribute to an intelligent and courageous woman, RBG: Of Many, One is directed by Priscilla Jackman, who manufactures an unmistakeably reverential aura for the staging. Having passed away just two years ago, Ginsburg’s story, although not a mournful one, does reverberate with a sense of melancholy. Furthermore, recent events pertaining to the Dobbs decision that overturns Roe v Wade, thereby upending 50 years of abortion rights, feels a direct consequence of Ginsburg’s death. The work is still a celebration of a great life, but the darkness of current realities, makes the experience a truly sombre one.
Production design by David Fleischer implements an understated elegance that corresponds with the heroin’s image in our collective memory, but several instances requiring stagehands to manually deliver props, can appear somewhat awkward. Alexander Berlage’s lights provide much-needed visual dynamism for the one-woman show, sensitively rendered to help us navigate the many shifts in time and place, whilst delivering beautiful imagery through the duration. Music by Paul Charlier is memorable for its vigour, although not always at appropriate levels.
Actor Heather Mitchell brings an exceptional charisma that is somehow commensurate, with our unreasonable expectations of meeting the legend in the flesh. Technical brilliance is demonstrated especially through Mitchell’s distinct portrayals of Ginsburg at different ages, as she performs the role from childhood to her twilight years. At 90 minutes, RBG: Of Many, One is unquestionably demanding, and although not quite flawless, it is a performance that proves to be highly satisfying.
It is wonderful to be able to honour Ginsburg for her many great achievements, and with that commemoration be reminded that so much remains to be accomplished. Dissent is necessary not only in our courts. Injustice rears its ugly head, much more readily outside of rarefied spaces. The example set by The Notorious R.B.G. should not only be one of career progression, but one that epitomises a spirit of defiance and daring. Her narrative is one of selflessness, characterised by a zeal to work on behalf of those who have less power, so that communities become more fair and equitable. We will not all rise to high positions, but to make it known when things go wrong, is a responsibility many of us can bear.