“Go Get ‘Em, Girl!”
On Wednesday the New York Times’ sports section ran a good story about Dr. Julia Chase-Brand and how, in 1961, she broke down the barriers for women running long-distance races. It is an inspiring read, one in which the young Chase-Brand takes on a race “second only to the Boston Marathon in size and importance” in 1961, when, against the objection of the (male) officials of the American Athletic Union, she ran the Manchester (Connecticut) Road Race . “If the A.A.U. was not welcoming, the spectators and other male runners were,” writes Jeré Longman, who quotes Chase-Brand: “The first guy I passed said, ‘Go get ’em, girl,'” On Thanksgiving Day, Julia Chase-Brand will run the Manchester again, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her breakthrough for women’s sports.
Another article, this one a review.
I mention this story here because of information shared early on in the piece and how it connects with our current production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, which is playing through the weekend at the Wells-Metz Theatre. And that leads to another newspaper article, Doris Lynch’s review in the Herald-Times, published yesterday. (If you subscribe to the H-T, you can access the article here.) IU Theatre possesses, says Ms. Lynch, “another hit in [our] compelling production … about a doctor who attempts to cure hysteria with 1880’s new technology, the Chattanooga vibrator.”
The play and its production deserve the plaudits and sold-out houses they are enjoying. Although it deals with a part of our medical history over 130 years old, In the Next Room is still a contemporary piece. We are still very much dealing with the impact of new technologies on our medical treatments and our personal lives, on the best way to convey our deepest wishes and thoughts to one another, etc.
The comedy of the piece happens when Ruhl juxtaposes the late 19th-century view of the female body against our present one. We live in a time where hysteria is no longer considered a disease, one almost exclusively experienced by women. We live in a time when the treatment of a woman’s anxiety disorder is not accomplished by the manipulation of her genitals by a medical professional to ease the pressure of her womb and bring about a state of relaxation and release of tensions. We live in a time that is much more sophisticated and knowledgeable about the human body.
Then again, there is that article about Julia Chase-Brand in Wednesday’s Times. Why were women prohibited to run long distance races in 1961? “When sympathetic race organizers allowed [women] entry [in road races], their results did not count,” writes Longman in the profile. “Even in the Olympics, women were not allowed to run more than a half-mile lest, it was believed, they would risk their femininity and reproductive health. The most alarmist officials warned that a woman who ran a more ambitious distance might cause her uterus to fall out.”
as it is said amongst the texters. Well into our own time, odd paradigms about female bodies have existed, supported by a male-centric framework that has shifted considerably since, at least in the area of women’s sports.
But I wonder what kind of play will be written a century hence, one that uses Ruhl’s comic technique, setting a contemporary point of view against a since-abandoned “reality” of our own, early 21st-century existence.