Play Review: Bay Street’s ‘All Things Equal’ a Powerful Teaching Tool

"All Things Equal" at Bay Street Theater
“All Things Equal” at Bay Street Theater
Courtesy Bay Street Theater

This year’s addition to Bay Street Theater’s annual Literature Live! educational theater program is a deviation from the norm — not a book adaptation or Shakespeare play, but a new one-woman-show created by Tony-winning playwright Rupert Holmes. All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a powerful teaching tool and an intellectually enriching production for the whole family.

SEE PHOTOS FROM OPENING NIGHT!

All Things Equal, directed by Laley Lippard, opens with a cacophony of soundbites about the notorious RBG, which ends just as abruptly as it begins to reveal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, portrayed by Michelle Azar, sitting in her office.

One of the first interesting quirks that audience members will pick up on is that not only is the play framed as a one-on-one meeting with Ginsburg, the “character” the audience represents is an adolescent friend of RBG’s granddaughter. Whether this is true for all productions or exclusive to the Literature Live! educational focus of Bay Street’s production is unclear, but the occasional moments of being spoken to as if a member of Generation Z do take some adjusting to.

However, given that this decision is being used to help local students connect with Ginsburg’s story and historical significance, it easily gets a pass.

While there certainly is plenty for adults to learn and experience in All Things Equal, it shines as a play to see with the whole family. It’s a near-guaranteed catalyst for enriching discussion between parents and their children, and it sets RBG up as a great role model for kids to aspire.

The content in the play is largely appropriate for teenagers and some middle schoolers, though with topics such as Roe v. Wade (brought up but not discussed in depth), cancer and death of a child, it’s ultimately up to parents to make that call.

For a play about a Supreme Court justice pictured almost exclusively in her iconic black robe, it utilizes a number of welcome costume changes — some variations of the robed look, some classy and one used to great comedic affect. In fact, All Things Equal infuses humor throughout, whether poking fun at Ginsburg’s opponents or her rapper-like title as the “Notorious RBG.”

Michelle Azar as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "All Things Equal" at Bay Street Theater
Michelle Azar as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “All Things Equal” at Bay Street TheaterCourtesy Bay Street Theater

RBG Embodied in All Things Equal

After the opening night performance concluded, an audience member could be heard gushing over the intimate experience she just had with RBG, to which her friend replied, “You do realize that wasn’t actually Ruth Bader Ginsburg, right?”

Therein lies the power of playwright Rupert Holmes’ vision for a one-on-one, one-woman show starring the brilliant Michelle Azar.

For 90 minutes, she held the audience in the palm of her hand — each witty remark met with laughter, her most triumphant moments met with applause and her most tragic, tear-filled moment met with a long, empathetic silence. It’s understandable that amid the suspension of disbelief, one can forget they’re not watching the real RBG — images and voice clips of the late justice used in the play confirm that Azar has captured her likeness and voice inflections to a tee.

And as the play progresses, Azar as Ginsburg almost seems to age, growing weary after recounting her struggles overcome and victories earned, moving finally to the justice’s greatest regrets.

Even for adults who’ve seen the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentaries and dramas, All Things Equal provides a uniquely intimate experience that’s absolutely worth exploring. And for kids, this is the way to introduce them to the powerful, emotional story of the Notorious RBG.

All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg runs through November 27 at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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