The Furies of Mother Jones
by Anthony Chase
In this context it seems heavily ironic that my next topic is a musical about Mother Jones, advocate for a higher quality of life for working people.
If the title of The Furies of Mother Jones, a musical by Maxine Klein and James Oestereich, sounds like something derived from Greek Tragedy, there’s a reason. Mary Harris Jones, known to history as Mother Jones, was an Irish-born, Canadian-American labor activist, born in 1837, whose courageous efforts on behalf of American miners are still the stuff of legend. She was, in short, a force of nature.
The production currently being staged by Subversive Theatre at the Manny Fried Playhouse is powered with winning energy and enthusiasm by a large cast under the direction of Megan Callahan.
The play tells stories from two time frames. The first is Appalachia in the late 1960s, a time when mining families fought bruising battles to hold onto their ancestral land, to win better safety standards, and to elect non-corrupt union leadership. As the play begins, we see three families in wood-frame set pieces that will serve as all the locations of the piece.
At key moments, the play takes us back to the turn of the 20th century, when Mother Jones herself, played by Sharon Strait, similarly fought harrowing battles for the rights of working families. This historical context effectively serves to pull together the sprawling material, pieced from oral histories, newspaper accounts, and government records. The cumulative effect is stirring.
The Erie Lackawanna Railroad Band provides instrumentals and superb vocals. Among the cast members, Marshall Maxwell, Leah Russo, Hanna Lipkind, and Tilke Hill provide especially vivid portrayals, as does Sharon Strait as the feisty title character.
The set by Tom Izard, faithfully follows Maxine Klein’s specifications while appropriately giving the production the feel of something handmade.
The Furies of Mother Jones continues through October 9.
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