by Shirley Lorraine
Elite Spotlights Hidden History
Now playing on the main stage at the Elite Theater in Oxnard, is a new work well worth catching. Inspired by real events, the story offers a unique opportunity to explore motivations and methods to achieve societal change.
There is always more to any story – details clouded by the biases of those telling their side, information omitted from news reports, speculations that grow into pseudo-facts, and more. These concepts and others are investigated in a “suppositional” telling of the story of Mother Jones, an outspoken leader and first female organizer of the United Mine Workers Union.
The drama, written by Roger Holzberg and adapted for the Elite stage by Holzberg and director Angela Decicco, invites the audience to participate in pondering the outcome of a fictional trial.
Mary “Mother” Harris Jones (Lynn Van Emmerik), is brought before the venerable Clarence Darrow (Bill Walthall) and U.M.W. President John Mitchell (Don McGreevy) to explain and justify actions taken in 1914’s Colorado Coalfield War labor dispute in which the uprising for miner’s rights resulted in thousands of deaths.
Jones, at age 77, fought long and hard for coal miner’s rights – to be paid in U.S. dollars, to limit the extent of their workday to eight hours, and to “lifting the chains of industrial slavery” among other worthy pursuits. Jones was a champion of women’s rights to work outside the home for equal pay, access to health care and more. Sound familiar? It should, because this “war” is still being fought.
Accented by historical slides, subtle character changes to spotlight vignettes and a minimal, yet effective setting, the telling brings up questions relevant even today and asks the audience to judge actions taken. Valid points are brought up by each side. Based on information presented, was Mother Jones justified in asking workers to sacrifice themselves and their families for the cause?
Lynn Van Emmerick presents a persona of Mother Jones that is formidable and strong. She is imbued with an inner fire of conviction that, to her, justifies her retaliatory actions. Despite this passion, might she also be at fault in the eyes of the law?
Walthall and McGreevy, along with Logan Chase and Hana Moon, all present well portrayed characterizations to accentuate points presented in this fictional trial.
The piece is deeply researched and presents many openings for digging deeper to find answers. Mostly lost to history, the incident as spotlighted allows the audience an opportunity to use the context to examine similar actions in current issues.
Opening night held an additional bonus – a talk-back with the author following the presentation, giving audience members a forum to ask questions, express views and offer suggestions. Holzberg will be conducting another talk back at the Thursday performance and possibly a few others. Contact the theatre directly for additional dates.
The Trial of Mother Jones continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. with an 8 p.m. performance on Thursday, February 15. www.theElite.org, 805-483-5118.