Here In My Garden Showcases History’s Most Fearsome Women

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

It’s not common to see a flirtatious musical swordfight between two time traveling women, but Here In My Garden is an incredibly ambitious production. Featuring eight different “warrior women” who lived from 110 BC to the 20th century, the play weaved their stories together within a garden divorced from space or time.

The piece served as the Honors directing thesis of Patrick Ross ‘15, and he and the show’s ensemble devised the script. The show took place in the Frear Ensemble Theater in a small, minimalist set. Props were used sparingly. The show also featured several original songs and a cameo from some of the members of Grapevine.

The premise of the show initially seemed very silly. Women from vastly different historical periods come together to bond over their commonalities, and all of the action takes place in the peaceful garden managed by an unnamed caretaker (Kimaya Diggs ‘15). As the play unfolded, however, it became clear that there were several rich stories to draw on. Ross intelligently prioritized the raw emotional experiences of these women over specific historical details. Featuring casual, slangy dialogue in parts, the show clearly was not intended to function as a standard period piece.

The play’s strongest scenes formed in the interactions between the ensemble. In one scene, 16th century Pirate Queen of Ireland Grace O’Malley (Kate Wiseman ‘15)  and Margaret Thatcher (Michaela Shuchman ‘16) have a tea party. The situation managed to be simultaneously absurd and moving, as Thatcher and O’Malley, despite their extreme political differences, bonded over their shared experiences as mothers.

Given its focus on morally ambiguous women throughout history, femininity became a significant theme throughout the play. The show focused on the way each woman violated the gender norms of her period by either taking power or fighting for a political cause. The play also drew attention to the way women find themselves connected to each other and to how women are expected to be compassionate and maternal. While we saw some of the characters act in morally ambiguous ways, the show explicitly refused to cast judgment on them, especially the kind of gendered judgment that comes from words like “bitch.”

Given the large cast and relatively short running time of the production, some of these women’s stories felt incomplete. Judith (Rose McInnes ‘16 BMC)  and Empress Wu (Fae Montgomery ‘17) were given relatively little stage time, and their scenes seemed disconnected from the rest of the play. Furthermore, when presented with both the brief snippets of each woman’s life and some of the more obscure historical subject matter, the play could be hard for a layperson to follow in some parts.

In its best moments, the play perfectly combined elements like lighting, sound, and space to tell the compelling, deeply emotional stories of these women. Ross managed to tie many diverse strands together into a coherent and moving production.

Featured image by Sophia Zaia ’18/The Daily Gazette.

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