Fae portrays National Woman's Party chairwoman Alice Paul, who was arrested in July 1917 -- along with scores of sympathizers -- for "obstructing traffic." What they'd actually been doing, for seven months, was picketing the White House to protest President Woodrow Wilson's refusal to support the Suffrage Amendment.
The abuse, both verbal and physical, that the women suffered in the street paled beside the treatment that awaited them in the Occoquan Workhouse jail -- movingly conveyed in a claustrophobia-inducing set conceived by Samuels (who also directs).
Sliding panels admit only partial views of Paul's cramped cell, and sound designer Kristin Worrall contributes high-drone sound effects that suggest both the maddening monotony of an institutional setting and the kind of aural hallucinations that can accompany a state of near-starvation.
We encounter Paul -- whom Fae portrays with delicate deportment and diction, steeled by well-reasoned resolve -- being interviewed by an unidentified "Man" (Wayne Maugans). Whether he's friend or foe is hard to tell, although he does start off the interview by inquiring of the guard, "Does this case talk?"
Indeed she does -- with a born rhetorician's panache and airtight logic. At one point, Paul even plays devil's advocate, the better to ridicule the opposition's stance. In an inspired bit of staging, Samuels has the Man's chair and Paul's iron bedstead circling and spinning on tracks, like sparring partners in a boxing ring. The swirl also suggests the sensorial distortions engulfing Paul as she persists in her hunger strike, leading to terrifying consequences.
All ultimately ends well, as history reassures us. But at a time when basic human rights are once again in dispute, this intense flashback serves as a trenchant reminder of the hard work required to bring about substantive, lasting change.
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