Writer Claude Solnik's newest play “Victoria Woodhull: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Feminist” debuts Friday during Women’s History Month at the Playhouse at St. Paul’s in Northport.
Robert Previto directs the show, which stars Vivian Wyrick as Victoria Woodhull, in a five-performance run.
The show's producers say audiences will see Woodhull come to life from con artist to women’s rights advocate to presidential candidate. Along the way, she antagonizes many and forms alliances with others, including Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“I wasn't aware of her place in history or who she was. I heard of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony, but I never heard of Victoria Woodhull,” said Wyrick, a Huntington resident. “I think she was way ahead of her time.”
Solnik, a Plainview resident and a journalist whose play “Theater Games”debuted in Northport with Bare Bones Theater Co., said he saw Woodhull as a dramatic, American character with a Long Island link in her alliance with Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“She was courageous,” he said. “When other leaders focused on the vote and the vote only, Victoria Woodhull fought for better wages and education for women. The vote was part of her crusade.”
Previto, a Huntington resident who co-authored "A Practical Handbook for the Actor" with a forward by David Mamet, sees the show as a contemporary story about an American original.
“Anyone viewing the play will grasp how Victoria Woodhull's struggle for equality resonates with so many similar struggles today,” Previto said. “She is both a reminder and a role model for modern women and activists of all manners and persuasions.”
"Victoria Woodhull was a woman ahead of her time – but one perfectly suited to ours," Solnik noted. "I’m trying to remind people of who she was, what she did, why she matters, and how courageous and sometimes flawed, she was. But whatever else she deserved -- she spent her own election day in jail, although she later got the charges thrown out -- she doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
“That she is forgotten or ignored is a travesty of American history,” Previto, said. “Her resurrection is an affirmation of the validity of her contribution.”
The story has particular resonance in this region, where Vanderbilt, a main character in the play and portrayed by Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, funded her ventures.
“She was so antagonistic with the ‘mainstream’ women,"Wyrick added. "When Stowe was writing about the women’s movement, she left Victoria out. She wasn’t written up, because she’s so controversial.”
A native of Homer, Ohio, Woodhull moved to New York, where she met Vanderbilt, conducted a séance for him and soon found herself helping him make money with insider trading, according to the show's press materials. Vanderbilt loaned her money to open a brokerage and publish a magazine, which she used to advance her agendas, which soon included attacking rail road barons and advocating for women’s right to vote.
The play also depicts Suffragettes as they fought over different strategies, providing a window into how women’s right to vote was won.
“It’s sad. I’m ashamed to say that. You take it for granted. You’re born into the generation that has it,” Wyrick said. “When I go to vote, I don’t think, as a woman, this is something that women fought for.”
If you go: “Victoria Woodhull: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Feminist,” runs Fri.-Sat. March 14-March 15 at 8 p.m.; Sun., March 16 at 2 p.m.; Sat., March 22 at 8 p.m. and Sun., March 23 at 2 p.m. in St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 270 Main St., Northport.
Tickets are available for $15 or $12 for students, seniors and groups of five by searching “Victoria Woodhull” at www.brownpapertickets.com. For more information call (516) 404-2960.