Eleanor Roosevelt, Mae West and Emperor Wu Chao are just three of the eight women other than herself whom Leeds portrays in her one-woman play, Good Lessons from Bad Women. And because the "well-over-21" former Broadway actress slips so seamlessly in and out of the women's personalities, each of the historic females takes a turn during our conversation.
On one hand, it's disconcerting to hear West say, "Come up and see me sometime," 28 years after her death. On the other hand, it makes you aware of Leeds' skill with accents and inflection.
In her play, the characters each bring different lessons to the stage. They also explore various dimensions of badness.
West, a comedienne, actress and sex symbol, was deemed bad during her time because she didn't allow others to dictate her actions. As a 20th-century political and social icon, Roosevelt was revered by those around her, but she struggled internally with bad thoughts because she believed herself ugly. Wu, a concubine, was considered ruthless in her rise to power in China during the Tang dynasty because she "walked all over these weak men," says Leeds.
The play as a whole teaches two lessons. The first: You should accept who you are. Leeds says that's not an easy task because people carry goodness and badness within them, and they must be reconciled.
The second: We all tend to see the world in absolutes such as "good" and "bad."
"We need to see more of the grays," Leeds says.
Leeds, also an author from New York City, has been performing this play for two years and she says she's just getting started. She does express one slight concern: "I hope by playing multiple characters I'm not becoming schizophrenic."
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