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Review: The Passions of Emma Goldman

I didn't know anything about Emma Goldman before heading to Stage 773, but I was comforted by the fact that playwright and performer Roslyn Alexander did extensive research to educate us on this Russian anarchist who immigrated to America in 1885. However, for all of its good intentions, this is a troubled production.

Alexander is a veteran Chicago actor, and while she does manage to switch between many characters throughout the show, she fails to maintain the Russian accent required to portray this woman. If this was an artistic choice, then the Russian voiceover played at the very beginning of the show should have been omitted.

In addition, while parts of this story are interesting, the play itself lacks focus. In an attempt to cover every aspect of Goldman's life, it glosses over the very socio-economic causes that Goldman became known for. She says, "My work is my refuge." Yet only a small percentage of this production focuses on details about her work, which might have created a more compelling story.

To further complicate matters, too much time is given to each of the men that went through the revolving door of this woman's love life. Perhaps the focus should have been on the love of her life, Sasha, which could have given the audience a point of reference for the story's trajectory.

It's not that "The Passions of Emma Goldman" is a bad idea. It's that it needs editing and higher stakes to make the audience really care about this person. The running time of 90 minutes felt far too long for this story, and if it would have focused more on the issues Goldman fought for, such as your right to an 8-hour work day or contraception, this play might have been much more interesting. Yes, love may need freedom to exist, but a playwright creating a biographical piece must also show restraint in order to tell a more focused and powerful story.