It is September 1918. The ladies and gentlemen of Colorado Springs have gathered for tea, at the invitation of Mrs. Cornelia Otis Bradford (Sue Dougherty), to raise funds for the Sunnyrest Sanitarium on Boulder Street, a rest home for impoverished tuberculosis patients.
Visiting Little London and in attendance are two noted literary figures, Mrs. Leonard Woolf of England who insists on being called Virginia (Donna Vessey), and Wellesley professor and poet Katharine Lee Bates (Doris McCraw), author of "America the Beautiful."
Despite the hostess's best efforts to encourage only pleasant exchanges, conversation quickly turns to women's suffrage and the war in Europe. Ms. Woolf and Ms. Bates find themselves in a debate with Mr. William Prymme (Will Robinson), a pillar of local society and father of 13 children who espouses the ideas of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and finds himself in quite the verbal fracas.
This is the setting for Scandals and Scones: A Tea for Free Expression, written by local author Rebekah Shardy, founder of the Mighty Muse Writing Project, a grass-roots organization dedicated to helping women challenged by domestic violence, poverty, incarceration and addiction to "overcome silence and shame through the liberation of words."
This year, Mighty Muse became the first grant recipient of the local chapter of the National League of American Pen Women, and Scandals and Scones is their first joint fund-raiser.
Designed to encourage audience participation, the play is staged as an actual tea, with one of the principal actors seated at each of three guest tables. Each actor has thoroughly researched the period and issues of the time, and converses in character, between scripted episodes, with the guests in attendance.
Vessey's Woolf is radiant and impassioned, considerably more perky than Nicole Kidman's rendition of the author in last year's hit movie The Hours. A self-declared "citizen of the country of women," Woolf demands honesty, deplores injustice and despises the war. When introduced by Mrs. Bradford as a "genteel English woman of letters," Woolf declares: "It is true. I am a writer. I let my pen fling itself on paper like a leopard starved for blood," causing minor palpitations for the hostess.
When Miss Bates gives a reading of "America the Beautiful," Mr. Prymme finds her a far more suitable spokesperson for women. "Yes, this is what woman was made to do and be. Accentuate the beautiful!" he swoons, and then scolds, "Mrs. Woolf, you would do well to proclaim the God-given wonders of your own civilization."
A heated conversation ensues on the state of women in the world and the value of the vote for women so long as economic independence is denied them.
When the subject turns to war, Scandals and Scones parallels many current discussions of the usefulness of combat and the loss of liberty at home in the name of national security when the nation sends its sons to war.
Bates' defense of her anti-war stance is moving. "It is my passion for my country that stirs me to reform it," she says. "The way a mother fusses over her wayward child out of love. Why is it assumed that love of country means that we take our country's best -- bridegrooms, brothers, sons -- and feed them to the guns?" McCraw is superb throughout, and lends particular gravity to Bates when she recites "Pigeon Post," her poem about the dove, symbol of peace, "put to the work of messenger amidst battle."
In May of 1918 Congress passed the Sedition Act, giving government far-flung powers to suppress and punish dissent. An exchange arose at dress rehearsal over the parallels between that act and the current PATRIOT Act.
As directed by Eve Tilley and written by Shardy, Scandals and Scones is meticulously researched and designed to provoke discussion, but in a warm, comfortable setting. Sencha will provide the dining room, the Earl Gray tea, cucumber sandwiches, petits fours and other nibbles, and the tables will be dressed by Designs by Merrily. Colorado College's Gypsy Ames provided the lovely period costumes.
Guests are invited to come in character or as themselves. All proceeds will benefit the Mighty Muse Writing Project.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Scandals and Scones: A Tea for Free Expression
A fund-raiser for the Mighty Muse Writing Project for Women
Two seatings, Sunday, Sept. 21, 1-2 p.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Sencha, 331 S. Nevada Ave. (corner of Costilla and Nevada)
$20 per person
Call 632-8287 for reservations.