Arts & Culture » Theater

Standing up to Mahatma Gandhi

by Jim Gladstone

Playwright and actress Anne Galjour. Photo: Courtesy the subject
Playwright and actress Anne Galjour. Photo: Courtesy the subject  

When does political correctness cross the line to self-righteousness? When do spirituality and sexuality become incompatible?

What happens when a group of feminist San Francisco theater veterans witnesses the triumph of Trump over Clinton? And for heaven's sake, what happens when the body turns from a drum to "a sultry horn flowing in infinite sound?"

"We want to live in the question," says playwright and actress Anne Galjour, one of the aforementioned legends of the local stage, speaking in phrases not far afield of the yoga argot used by the characters in "#GetGandhi: A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy," which opens this Saturday, August 11, at the Mission District's Z Space Below performance space.

"#Get Gandhi" takes its body-drumming and sultry horn-playing at face value, while also playing slide-whistle and kazoo. It serves up a bowl of crunchy granola liberally dosed with Pop Rocks. Galjour collaborated on the play with longtime friends Jeri Lynn Cohen and Patricia Silver, both San Francisco Mime Troupe members, founders of Word for Word Performing Arts, and for decades, familiar onstage faces in Bay Area productions. The trio was later joined by nationally acclaimed director Nancy Carlin.


Patricia Sliver and Jeri Lynn Cohen (l.-r.) in #GetGandhi by Anne Galjour, playing Z Space Below in SF. Photo: Julie Schuchard  

"We're this scrappy little group of postmenopausal hags," Galjour says with a laugh, acknowledging the foursome's first-wave feminist cred. "We would get together and talk about older women's concerns, and about the differences between our generation and the next wave of feminists."

After being devastated by Hillary Clinton's election loss and committing to move forward with their work-in-progress, the troupe took on a more official moniker as a production company: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective."

"We wanted to have fun and do a comedy," Galjour emphasizes, "a zany caper that plays with important ideas."

That caper has its roots in a real-world movement inspired by philosopher Mary Daly, who has taken Mahatma Gandhi to task due to the iconic peacemaker's practice of asking young women to sleep naked beside him in order to test his self-discipline and moral purity. No less than the Indian novelist and social critic Arundhati Roy has expressed her support of this censure.

"When the #MeToo movement came along in the midst of our working on this, it was like rocket fuel," recalls Galjour. "The play got legs. Actually, I'd say it got claws."

In the play, a "coven of first-wave feminists" (surely not based on anyone we know) plots to topple and remove San Francisco's Gandhi tribute statue on the Embarcadero. Their plan leads to exasperating arguments with daughters, husbands and each other about the relationship between the public idolization of Gandhi and the proper perspective from which to consider him. (Director Carlin's real-life husband and daughter, Howard and Miranda Swain, are in the cast.)

Resonant references to recent controversies about the removal of historic statues in the American South, sexual assault, and other timely issues give "#GetGandhi" an impressively of-the-moment frisson.

"Each character in the play has a different response to Gandhi," says Galjour. "They can be shortsighted and quirky and unconventional. Our biggest hope is that the play sparks dialogue and debate. And laughter, of course."

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective presents "#GetGandhi" through Aug. 26 at Z Space Below. Info: www.zspace.org.


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