My first reaction when I saw that Tacoma Little Theatre was doing Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington was "What a great title" - a switcheroo on the famous Jimmy Stewart film of the same title, but with "Mrs." Instead of "Mr." I had never heard of the play, but assumed it must be a political satire. So I Googled it and discovered that it's not a satire. It is a one-woman play about Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to both the United States House of Representatives and to the Senate.
Mrs. Smith was written by Linda Britt, and is directed by Ellen Peters with assistant director Chevi Chung. Kathi Aleman plays the senator from Maine. Both Peters and Aleman are well known to local theater patrons. Peters was recently seen in Night of the Iguana at Dukesbay Theatre and has been seen in The Weir and Second Samuel at TLT. Aleman scored memorable performances in last year's Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse and in the little known but excellent Terminus at Assemblage Theatre.
Peters grew up in Maine. "I've known about Margaret Chase Smith since elementary school. She was not only notable as a woman politician, but also had a reputation for advocating for the people she represented, and speaking her mind," Peters said.
Peters collaborated with the author, who also hails from Maine, on productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Laramie Project in the mid-2000s and was her assistant director on Mrs. Smith, which Britt directed, at Out of the Box Theater Company in Lewiston, Maine, in February 2010. That production of the play was followed by a Q&A with the actor who played Margaret Chase Smith staying in character. "The number of Mainers who cited their personal or their family interaction with Senator Smith was both astounding and touching," Peters said. "Margaret Chase Smith made a mark not only for women in politics, but in the lives of countless citizens. At the same time, I was struck by how important the messages of the play still are."
Britt describes Mrs. Smith as "an intimate look at the life and times of Margaret Chase Smith, told in her own words and in the words of the people closest to her. It tells of her journey from humble beginnings in Skowhegan, Maine, to a position of power and respect as a United States senator. She relates personal anecdotes and recites from her "Declaration of Conscience," sharing both private and public moments with the audience. Senator Smith was a woman of courage and integrity, and this production brings her to life for a new generation."
Aleman said, "Ellen first approached me to do the project in the aftermath of the presidential campaign and election. I wanted to work with her on it because I felt it has something to say to all women, including my daughter who had just voted in her first presidential election, grieving over the loss of a woman becoming President. It is storytelling in its truest form, and the story it tells is of a true public servant, who fought for the rights contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the needs of her constituents and for what she knew was morally correct even when it meant going against her party. Margaret Chase Smith was a pioneer who knew that women belong in politics, due to their humanity, passion and determination. It is a story that I feel honored to bring to Tacoma."
Following the production of the play there will be a post-play panel discussion with State Senator Jeannie Darneille; Councilmember Lauren Walker Lee; playwright Linda Britt who will travel from her home in Maine to be here; and University of Puget Sound Associate Professor of Politics and Government Robin Jacobson.
Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27, $10, free to TLT members, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281, tacomalittletheatre.com