Written by Suzie Miller. World Premiere. Sydney Theatre Company. Oct 29 – Dec 17, 2022.
There is a calculation to Suzie Miller’s new play, RBG: Of Many, One, now playing at Sydney Theatre Company. The calculation of a very intelligent woman (far more intelligent than I) looking ahead to the next step. This exploration of the life and legacy of the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has one eye on the past, and one firmly on the future.
RBG, as she was known, became something more than just one of the most influential women in America. She became a pop-cultural icon (watch the documentary The Notorious R.B.G. and the film On The Basis of Sex for more). Appointed under Bill Clinton’s administration, she sat on the bench till the time of Trump. Few individuals have done more for the legal battle for gender equality than RBG. And here playwright Suzie Miller gives us a version of Peter Morgan’s play, The Audience, but instead of featuring an English monarch, we’re focusing on the life of a very American “queen”.
Starting with the night of her official nomination to the Supreme Court bench, Heather Mitchell steps into the robes and collars of RBG through various moments and meetings of her life, bouncing around her lifetime connecting moments. Mitchell brilliantly portrays the various US Presidents in RBG’s life, from Clinton’s charming drawl, Obama’s considered tones and Trump’s bumbling rhetoric. It’s a real powerhouse of a performance. Ageing decades in an instant as the story jumps between time-periods.
Miller has had a fantastic year, with the success of her play Prima Facie on London’s West End and its upcoming Broadway run, and RBG: Of Many, One feels like a carefully tooled successor. A “one-woman show about the law” rings a familiar bell, but the stakes are raised by the choice of subject. Why would a play about an American Supreme Court Judge be premiering in Australia, if it were not actually intended for Broadway? It’s another showcase role for a leading lady.
And I should clearly state, this is not Prima Facie 2: The Law Strikes Back! RBG: Of Many, One isn’t propelled by the same narrative or sense of discovery and inquisition – there is no outrage fueling this play, no forensic dissection of matters. For the most part it is driven by joy, the joy of victory and achievement, but that elation is tempered with a sense of impending doom that rises as the narrative approaches Trump’s presidency.
I wish more time had been spent interrogating Bader Ginsberg’s refusal to entertain the thought of retiring under Obama’s presidency, and thus ensuring her place on the court was filled by a like-minded progressive judge. Was it a moment of stubborn pride or high-minded idealism? Indeed, more exploration of RBG’s relationship to her fellow Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia – a fierce conservative, would have taken us past the biographical history lessons and deeper into the mind of this remarkable woman.
As a celebration of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, RBG: Of Many, One is a great, entertaining piece of theatre centred around a star performance in Heather Mitchell. Suzie Miller has chosen to narrow her focus onto the private moments of this singular woman, making for a crowd-pleasing play that celebrates RBG’s heart more than her head.
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