Politicians are not my favorite people. A necessary evil, most today at the state and national levels seem more interested in furthering their personal careers and the needs of their party than doing what’s best for the country and the everyday people they supposedly serve.
Barbara Charline Jordan was different, however. The first black woman from a Southern state to serve in the United States House of Representatives (1973-1979), Jordan was a highly ethical Democrat who endeared herself to the American public – and to me – by speaking honestly, calmly, powerfully and eloquently about such subjects as the Constitution, Nixon’s impeachment and racial equality. Her integrity was never questioned, nor did she ever forget the constituents she represented. As a lobbyist quoted in The Austin Chronicle once said, “she looks like she might be God, if God turns out to be a black woman.”
So in these rancorous times when red states battle the blue for the soul of our nation, the BoarsHead Theater’s thought-provoking production of “Voice of Good Hope” couldn’t have come at a better time. And everyone in politics should be required to see it!
Written and directed by BHT’s Artistic Director Kristine Thatcher, “Voice of Good Hope” is not a linear biography. Rather, it offers us insightful glimpses into this extraordinary woman’s life as it jumps back and forth in time.
The play opens and closes towards the end of Jordan’s life as she struggles with multiple sclerosis – and cigarettes. In between we observe Jordan’s formative years in Houston where her grandfather helps shape her soul, and later, we discover her formidable skills as a politician.
Another powerful scene – not based on an actual incident, but required for dramatic tension – serves to remind us what a strong and principled woman she was – and how that concept has been lost by many who have followed in her footsteps.
One subject the play avoids is any specific reference to the relationship Jordan had with her housemate and longtime companion, Nancy Earl. But that’s not surprising, since Jordan never mentioned it herself in public or, apparently, in private. However, those of us who can read between the lines of Thatcher’s staging – no pun intended – it’s quietly there through subtle eye contact, facial expressions and simple, but loving gestures.
What’s NOT there – which might disappoint some – is Jordan’s immediately recognizable accent. (I don’t blame Thatcher for not attempting it, though, since its unique and memorable qualities might be too tough to accurately duplicate.) But everything else about Patricia Idlette’s performance is spot on. She’s particularly adept at allowing Jordan’s normally stoic facade to gently fall away to reveal the character’s innermost thoughts and fears.
Laural Merlington (Nancy), Danielle Mitchell (the young Barbara), Dexter Zollister (John Ed Patton, Barbara’s grandfather), Laura J. Croff (Dr. Woodruff) and Casaundra Freeman (Julie Dunn) all lend fine support.
Especially notable, however, is Gary Houston who, as Robert Strauss, matches Idlette’s every emotional twist and turn as the two debate Jordan’s possible appearance as a character witness for a fellow politician she doesn’t particularly like.
‘Voice of Good Hope’
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. Wed.-Sun., through April 8. Tickets: $20-$35. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org