REVIEW: Oakland University’s ‘Blue Stockings’ is a Brilliant Study of the Fight for Education and Owning One’s Knowledge

Part of the excitement of seeing an Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance production is the anticipation of finding out what is waiting as you round the corner and enter the transformed space. This time it is Blue Stockings – a beautiful, funny, and thought-provoking piece of theatre directed by Karen Sheridan and running now through November 24 in the Varner Studio Theatre.

Written by Jessica Swale, Blue Stockings is set in 1896 at the all-female Girton College, Cambridge. For those unfamiliar with the expression ‘bluestockings,’ it is a derogatory term for female intellectuals. The story centers around four women: Tess Moffat, played by Olive Ferguson; Celia Willbond, played by Krissy Castellese; Carolyn Addison, played by Lauren Faith Goyer; and Maeve Sullivan, played by Haley Spencer. All four are as different as they are alike, and each is a mixture of a modern woman in the making who are trying to free themselves from the shackles of societal constraints. As Mr. Banks (Jarvis Pitts), a lecturer at Trinity and Girton Colleges tells them, “You are not ladies now. You’re scientists.

Tess Moffat’s (Olive Ferguson) quest to understand the world draws some concerns from her male counterparts Will Bennett (Dryden Zurawski) and Ralph Mayhew (Connor Rajan) in Oakland University’s production of ‘Blue Stockings’ running through Nov. 24 in the Varner Studio Theatre.
Photo credit: JLBoone Photography.

For the men of Trinity College, the inclusion of the women on campus and in their lectures is seen largely as an invasion into the sanctity of what they deem as their birthright. But they also see the women as curiosities to be studied, and this lends itself to many laughs throughout the show. Speaking of laughs, Natalie Manor doesn’t have a large role as the ladies’ chaperone Miss Bott, but she makes the most of every line as she tries to protect each woman’s virtue. I believe the audience finds the early interactions funny because it’s not the way men and women communicate today. While it is humorous to modern audiences that these conversations and male/female interactions were once commonplace, the sad reality is that to some extent they are still taking place in the 21st century. There are still many that believe women solely belong in the home. Or that if they decide on a career they must accept a life of solitude and a barren womb. Great strides have been made since the 19th century, but Blue Stockings reminds us as women and as a society that there is still work left to be done in the advancements of opportunities and equality.

Ralph Mayhew played by Connor Rajan is particularly taken in by Tess. Edwards and Holmes played by Ryan Heath and Reggie Swoverland, respectively are more followers than leaders. Although as the play draws to a close we discover they each harbor decency underneath their dandy demeanors. The odd duck among the men is Will Bennett played by Dryden Zurawski. He is a childhood friend of Tess and enrolled in King’s College. He finds himself genuinely torn between wanting to support her dreams and the reality around them. If there was a villain of this production it would be Lloyd portrayed by Doran Berger. His character embodies the establishment of the time. Lloyd wears his privilege like a well-tailored suit and wields his arrogant chauvinism like an expert swordsman.

Even though the women are working toward a common goal, there still isn’t equality among them as Maeve finds out the hard way. Mrs. Welsh (Kelsi Fay), the head of Girton College and Miss Blake (Gabrielle Keen), a lecturer in moral science at Girton also find themselves at odds with what is the proper way to go after and achieve their goal. Do they align with the suffragette movement for added support or remain a separate entity? Each woman faces obstacles both physical and emotional on their way to winning the right to earn degrees. Progress comes at a cost and each woman must decide if the price is worth paying. As Celia tells Tess, “We don’t get buffeted by the wind. We change its course.” Do these brave women get the vote that allows them to earn degrees? Yes and no. I encourage you to go see the play to find out what happens firsthand. You won’t leave disappointed.

The performance runs approximately two and a half hours with a 12-minute intermission.

Blue Stockings tickets are $15 for the general public and $8 for students and the 10:00 a.m. matinee. To purchase tickets, visit ETix.com.

For more information on this and other Music, Theatre and Dance programs and performances, call 248-370-2030 or visit Oakland.edu/smtd.

After Friday, November 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 23 at 8:00 p.m. performances, Red Bucket Brigade volunteers will be on hand to collect donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For more information on this organization, visit BroadwayCares.org.

Blue Stockings Performance Schedule:

  • Friday, November 15 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 16 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 17 at 2:00 p.m.*
  • Thursday, November 21 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, November 22 at 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 23 at 8:00 p.m.*
  • Sunday, November 24 at 2:00 p.m.

* Shadow-signed for the Deaf by Synergy on Stage.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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