Stage Review: Enlightening drama educates its audience

ProArts presents expanded Wollstonecraft story by local playwright, director Lin McEwan

Lin McEwan in a scene from “Vindication, Scenes from the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Jack Grace photos

“Vindication, Scenes from the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft” begins with our introduction to Mary as a precocious young lady endearingly portrayed by Dakota Welch. In an outstanding performance, Noel Overbay portrays her mother.

Young Mary repeatedly questions why she cannot attend the same school as a boy she knows, and Overbay explains that boys go to prepare their minds for the tasks that lie ahead. Welch displays early on that Mary is no ordinary child, and the scene wonderfully foreshadows an extraordinary life, and play, that lies ahead.

As vital and timely as “Vindication” is, it is also quite frequently funny. When Welch tells her mother, “I already know how to play the harpsichord,” Overbay replies, “I think most who have heard your playing would disagree with you.” Later, young Mary inquires about education to her gruff but loving father, played by Keith Welch (the real-life father of Dakota).

“There is no such school for a girl like you,” Keith Welch regrettably asserts. “But there should be,” retorts young Mary, to which her father tenderly consents, “Perhaps there should.”

As the play shifts to an adult and independent Mary (Lin McEwan), we witness a modern-thinking woman, more recognizable to the 1970s than Wollstonecraft’s 1770s. At a luncheon with her companion Jane (Sara Jelley), Mary deliberates the institution of marriage, to Jane’s composed and gentle disapproval.

Keith Welch (from left), Dakota Welch and Noel Overbay in a scene depicting the early years of Wollstonecraft.

“I can see in your face that you think there will never be a man who understands me. You may be right. In any case, I shall never marry,” proudly declares McEwan.

Mary meets her match in William Godwin gallantly played by Jefferson Davis. The two quibble and deliberate the revolutionary politics of the era at a social gathering, but both McEwan and Davis also demonstrate a natural chemistry, foreshadowing a future life partner on her terms.

“Should we meet again, Miss Wollstonecraft, perhaps you will accord me some little respect,” jibes Davis, to which McEwan counters, “It is the right of a woman to be seen as a human being first and a woman second. Perhaps, should we meet again; you will accord me that honor, Mr. Godwin.”

Through her journeys, now living in post-revolution Paris, Mary is charmed by Gilbert Imlay, a charismatic married American pleasantly portrayed by Jason Wulf. A tempestuous affair arises, which results in a child out of wedlock and subsequent new hardships for Mary.

Scandals haunted Wollstonecraft socially throughout the rest of her life, and she was beheld as immoral in her lifetime. When chided by a writer friend, Elizabeth Inchbald, also played by Overbay, McEwan proclaims, “Women — we are each other’s harshest and most eager critics.”

True theater should enlighten its audience. Comedies and musicals delight and excite, but great theater educates. McEwan’s all-encompassing endeavors, from overseeing the design of costumes, the set and props to her script, co-direction and performance as Wollstonecraft is an absolute masterpiece. Aiding McEwan in design, direction and as stage manager, Tina Kailiponi deserves equal credit for the quality of this must-see standing ovation-worthy drama.

* ProArts concludes “Vindication, Scenes from the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Place Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. “Vindication” contains adult themes. For tickets or information, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com.

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