Talky, political plays don't have to be boring. George Bernard Shaw, for instance, wrote nothing else, but they are full of peerlessly witty dialogue, fascinatingly idiosyncratic characters, debates between strong, well-expressed viewpoints, and high, dramatic stakes. ShawChicago, which has the laudable goal of producing plays by Shaw and his contemporaries in staged reading form, has given us Elizabeth Robins's Votes for Women!, a 1907 drama about the Suffrage movement. Unfortunately, it possesses none of the qualities that distinguish Shaw's work, and is quite boring indeed.
The play concerns Jean Dunbarton (Barbara Zahora), a wealthy young woman engaged to Geoffrey Stonor (Matt Penn) a conservative politician in a tough reelection campaign. She is inspired by Vida Levering (Suzanne Lang) to join the suffrage movement, but Vida and Geoffrey have a past that impacts both love and politics in the present.
The story, however, is of secondary importance to the politics — in fact, the plot comes to a dead halt for most of Act II as the characters attend a public demonstration. Political content is exciting when it's dramatic, but there is no surprise or debate in the play. Aside from people being heckled while giving speeches, there is no serious opposition to women's suffrage, only disagreements over tactics. Since debate over whether women should vote has long since been settled, and the presentation is too narrowly focused to have many contemporary resonances, it's hard to get involved. The plot itself comes from the school of Victorian melodrama that was clichéd in the 1890's, so there is precious little to keep the audience engaged.
Director Robert Scogin and his cast do what they can, but in a staged reading format, there isn't much chance to enliven the script. Trying to find lost scripts that can stand with Shaw's masterpieces is a valuable pursuit, but some scripts should be left in the archives.