Whether it’s through the infamously awkward “talk” with one’s parents or in a private conversation with a blushing friend, we all eventually learn that our lives did not begin when a stork dropped us at the doorstep. But today more than ever, pregnancy is less likely an accident and more often the product of careful planning, with many women having just one or two children, and doing so much later in life. “It was Margaret Sanger,” said Elaine Kendall, “who made it possible for women to plan their private lives,” and, in consequence, to change the way the world works.
Kendall is the author of Two Margarets, which premiered Wednesday afternoon at Victoria Hall Theater. The drama is based on little-known aspects of the personal life of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and considered to be the woman primarily responsible for the legalization of birth control in this country. Kendall first became interested in Sanger when she came across her name on a list of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people. Her interest grew when she began shuffling through Sanger’s personal files at the Library of Congress.
The very name of Kendall’s play reflects Margaret Sanger’s complicated character and the struggle between her public and private selves. Kendall presents a timeline of Sanger’s life, with each scene representing a significant landmark in her public career, but always presented from the angle of Sanger’s personal relationships and interactions. Two Margarets does a great job establishing the complex nature of Margaret Sanger, yet her core identity remains elusive in the drama.
Despite its presentation as a staged reading, Two Margarets succeeded in taking the story off the page. With only a few rare stumbles, the actors seemed unhindered by having their scripts in hand. E. Bonnie Lewis’s performance as Sanger’s sister was particularly impressive, as she was called upon to portray the evolution of a talkative schoolgirl into an outspoken activist. While Two Margarets effectively presented Margaret Sanger not only as an influential advocate for birth control, but also as an interesting and inspiring woman, there remained, with Sanger’s death, an awesome sense of mystery. As the actors took their bows, the question lingered: “Who was Margaret Sanger really?”