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Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘Ancestra’ shines a bright light on oppression

“Ancestra” is a historical drama with a profound modern twist.
“Ancestra” is a historical drama with a profound modern twist.
Cleveland Public Theatre



“Ancestra” is a troubling play. Actually, it is two plays in one and both are troubling. The history of the fight for woman’s rights has been a black stain on world history. Even in modern times woman’s rights are being abused on a regular basis. Most recently was the report of a pregnant Pakistani woman who was stoned to death by her own family for marrying without their permission (the woman’s sister had earlier died of poisoning and is thought to be a victim of the same family members). It is only because that this incident received worldwide coverage that charges are being sought against the perpetrators. Otherwise it would have been pushed aside and forgotten.

Ancestra follows two parallel story lines. One if from the 1850’s that is based on contemporary context, the other the story of journalist, Cora (played by CPT’s Chris Seibert) who devotes her career writing about women’s issues such as poverty, young women’s self-esteem, mental health, domestic violence and—now—a story about women’s reproductive healthcare. In order to make a point, Cora resorts to unconventional means thus plunging her into a crisis where the past and present overlap.

Cora is a journalist who has accepted a job with an up and coming publication whose CEO is female. The story that she is working on concerns the fact that while there are pregnancy termination clinics with qualified medical staff, they are being rapidly replaced by pro-life fronts whose goal is to talk woman out of their decision to have an abortion.

At the same time in the play, four females who are the first to attend Oberlin College in Ohio have formed a secret society that meets in a nearby forest glade in order to debate and vent their frustrations. Although they are allowed to attend class they are restricted as to what subjects and degrees they may pursue. They are also not allowed to read their reports or papers to the class during class time, debate with fellow students in the class room (male or female) or even to ask questions.

As the play progresses, Cora finds that she is pregnant and is fired from her job due to her presenting only one side of the story and by going undercover against the wishes of the editor/owner of the publication. It is at this time that she is able to hear the voices of those women of courage that sacrificed so much in the fight to realize the freedoms that Cora enjoys to this day. At one point Cora actually meets with them in the forest and it is through this meeting that she is able to crystallize her decisions.

The four female college students are threatened with expulsion from the college because of their secret meetings while a sympathetic teacher is fired because of behavior unbecoming a woman of morals when she lightly kisses a male student on the cheek.

The play culminates in a reenactment of the 1853 National Woman’s Rights Convention in Cleveland, Ohio that was one of a series of meetings held over the years in the Buckeye State. Basic freedoms are discussed such as voting, property ownership, inheritance, job security and reproductive rights for women while it is pointed out the gauntlet that the over one thousand women delegates had to endure each day as they were shoved, pummeled and spat upon by mobs of threatening men as they entered the convention site.

Cora on the other hand is able to find what seems to be a “safe” clinic with proper medical staff and procedures but who by law must nevertheless still provide a pamphlet concerning the dangers of termination. It seems that no matter where she goes, the long arm of the Pro-Lifers still finds a way to try to influence women into changing their minds about terminating their pregnancies.

Special note must be made of the stage setting by Scenic Designer Aaron Benson (‘night Mother, The Aliens and Santaland Diaries). It invokes a true feeling of a forest clearing with the use of sticks, paper Mache and steel poles, a brilliant job that is well done. The period costuming by Tesia Dugan Benson is also remarkable.

Beefs and Flubs: This is an excellent cast of ten women who play twenty three roles. The acting is superb. My only complaint would be in the editing. The play runs a little over two hours long and at points seems to lose focus and drive. There was also some confusion over what Cora’s project was actually about.

Prude Alert: There are instances of brief foul language as well as frank discussions on abortion. It is an honest work that may invoke uneasy feelings in those sensitive to such discussions.

Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): “Ancestra” is a historical drama with a profound modern twist. It reaffirms the thought that freedom for all is a basic human right and no one is free until all are free. See this one with your wife or husband and talk about it afterwards.

Cast and Crew of Ancestra

Ancestra was Conceived and Directed by Holly Holsinger. Written by Holly Holsinger and Chris Seibert with additional research by Renee Schilling and Sally Groth*.

Ancestra features performances by Tania Benites, Lauren Fraley, Sally Groth*, Faye Hargate, Tanera Hutz, Anne McEvoy, Sarah Moore, Katy Lynn Patterson, Rhoda Rosen and Chris Seibert.

*Appears courtesy of Actors Equity Association.

The creative and production team includes Holly Holsinger (Director), Renee Schilling (Assistant Director), Aaron Benson (Scenic Designer), Tesia Benson (Costume Designer), Benjamin Gantose (Lighting Designer) and Sarah Lynne Nicholas (Stage Manager).

Ticket & Show Information

Ancestra runs through June 7. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday at 7:30 p.m. in CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44102. Tickets are $12 – $28.

All Thursday and Monday shows are just $12! Student and Senior discounts ($3 off) are available for Friday and Saturday performances.

**Every Friday is FREE BEER FRIDAY at CPT. Audience members are invited to mingle with the artists after the show and enjoy a drink or two on CPT.**
Tickets are available for purchase or by phone at (216) 631-2727 x 501. Group discounts available for 10+. Call to inquire.

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