“Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. So today we’re not being petty. We’re trying to be big. Because the task we have before us is a big one.”
Barbara Jordan is best remembered for her televised opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the process of impeaching President Richard Nixon on July 25, 1974. Jordan neither argued specifically for or against this impeachment during her statement, but rather brought to bear upon the proceedings her considerable understanding of the Constitution and the laws of the United States, a carefully modulated tone of delivery that included rounded, open vowels and clipped consonants swimming in a contralto key and a personal vibration of gravitas that could bring any congregation, no matter their differences, to sharp attention.
As we celebrate the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and consider the Senate’s response to the delivery of the House of Representatives’ articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump, this is a fine time to consider the career of one of the most important African-American women from which our government has benefited and wonder what she would have to say about life on Capitol Hill in 2020.
Celebrated playwright Kristine Thatcher’s “Voice of Good Hope” premiered at Victory Gardens Theater in 2000 and was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play. Since then, it has played across the country. Billed as a bio-drama or dramatic portrait, the piece makes no attempt to tell a story as far-reaching as that of the life of Jordan, who was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. She was considered as a potential running mate for Jimmy Carter. Only illness prevented her from becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Her awards and accolades are legion. Yet she is insufficiently known and celebrated. Thatcher’s dramatic lecture opens the door onto some of the larger moments of this career civil servant’s lifetime.
Andrea Conway-Diaz carries the show as Jordan, who is as known for her distinctive voice and carriage as for her ethics. It is always a challenge to play a public figure in times so recent that their person and voice can be studied at finger’s click. It appears that Conway-Diaz and director Terry McCabe decide to weigh their work in the direction of imitation, if not impersonation. Susie Griffith brings spunk and kindness to the role of Nancy Earl, the woman who many believe to have been Jordan’s partner-in-life. Noelle Klyce’s turn as Julie Dunn raises the temperature in the room, and we are sorry when she exits.
The audience will find some knowledge of the career of Barbara Jordan helpful in connecting to “Voice of Good Hope.” But until this country’s education system begins to spend the imperative time and energy on the history of all Americans, we must beg our education where we may. (Aaron Hunt)
City Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr, (773)293-3682, citylit.org, $32. Through February 23.