“Bull in a China Shop” at the Aurora

“Bull in a China Shop”  at the Aurora

Carol Benet

Playwright Bryna Turner’s “Bull in a China Shop” is a fictional semi-documentary about Mary Woolley, president of Mount Holyoke in the first part of the 20th century when she took the institute  from a women’s seminary to a full-fledged college.  She eded her term in 1937 and she had weathered many changes such as the Women’s Suffrage movement.

Wooly played by one of the best actresses in the Bay Area Stacy Ross is hired by Mount Holyoke in 1901 when she brings her former student and feisty lover Marks (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) with her from Wellesley College.  She immediately hires Marks as a professor of English, 

 From here on you can almost write the script yourself about what happened. But the ho hum of the plot is enlivened by humor as well as, among the very short scenes through the years, lots of lesbian sex.  Woolley fights for their rights despite the scorn of the dean played by a convincing Mia Tagano.  And of course there is an impressionable student Pearl (Jasimin Milan Williams) who entices Marks while Woolley is on a long trip to China and then more love scenes.

You can guess what happened so I don’t have to be a spoiler because it is evident.  But there are some moments of sheer poetry as in the letters of longing that Woolley writes from China but in all the play, despite its superb production with direction by Dawn Monique Williams, is just too predictable.

The tech team is the best with set in the ivy covered walls of the college by Nina Ball, costumes of the period by Ulises Alcala, lighting by Kurt Landsman and sound  by Lana Palmer.  This is the first play under the new Artistic Director Josh Costello who was the former Literary Manager.  

There were two lesbian plays in the Bay Area recently, “The Daughters” at the SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series and this one.  But after seeing some new art at museums like Edie Fake’s Art Wall the Berkeley Art Museum, it is clear that gay and lesbian themes are just so yesterday and maybe we are in time when we will start seeing  “trans” plays and art.  

Theaters seem to get into ruts such as the over abundance  of African American themed  works at the Marin Theatre Company as well as the Berkeley Rep and certainly gay themed plays are everywhere in the Bay Area.   Even a few Native America plays appeared on the stages this year.  But isn’t this what what the theater is all about  — to be a reflection of society current and past.

“Bull in a China Shop”  at the Aurora runs through December 12, 2019.   auroratheatre.org or 510 843 4822.  

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →