The late Edward Abbey would be proud, perhaps, to see the upcoming performance in Moab of “Beautiful Radiant Things” – a live musical play for radio about Emma Goldman, a radical activist of her day, who spent her 50th birthday in the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1919.
One hundred years ago, Goldman promoted a “wide range of controversial movements and principles, including anarchism, equality and independence for women, freedom of thought and expression, radical education, sexual freedom and birth control, and union organization and the eight-hour day,” according to the Emma Goldman Papers Project at the University of California in Berkeley.
“We partly chose it for the anarchy connection with Edward Abbey – that ‘question authority’ spirit that anarchy is akin to,” director and playwright Marty Durlin said.
Durlin wrote the musical six years ago, when she lived in Paonia, Colorado. The play debuted as a full stage production with choreography, and costumes typical of the time. The play toured Colorado, with performances in Paonia, Carbondale, Boulder and Denver.
Durlin is also general manager of KZMU Community Radio, and has since adapted “Beautiful Radiant Things” for radio, holding open auditions last November. Community members will perform the play at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St., on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m., as well as a Sunday, Feb. 18, matinee at 2 p.m. Both productions will be recorded for a later broadcast over KZMU radio some time in March.
Laurel Hagen stars as Goldman; Kya Marienfeld is the socialist Kate Richards O’Hare; Melissa Graciosa plays the part of convicted murderer Aggie the Lifer; Michele Johnson plays the thief Lulu Bibbs; Rachel Ann Kersch is counterfeiter Minnie Eddy; Haley Austin plays prostitute Hester Campbell and Jenna Whetzel portrays drug dealer Lottie Fun. Doni Kiffmeyer plays the part of warden.
Pianist Jessica Retka will lead a live orchestra, featuring concertina player Miriam Graham, bassist Josie Kovash and Fiery Furnace Marching Band members Jeff Gutierrez on saxophone, and Bobby Hollahan on trombone and tuba. Christian Wright will create sound effects.
In keeping with the spirit of old-time radio, Austin, Whetzel, Graciosa and Erin Greenley will sing various “commercial” jingles for three local businesses – Moonflower Community Cooperative, Moab Made, and Red Rock Bakery and Café.
Johnson said she had never acted before Durlin recruited her to try out for the part. But she likes to sing – and the play is narrated through song.
“I used to sing with the Golden Voices Gospel Ensemble,” which performed at a 2002 Winter Olympics event in Park City, she said. “I did not know about Emma Goldman.”
Marienfeld, who portrays the socialist O’Hare, said she also learned some history while preparing for her part.
“These were all real people,” she said. “Marty found (through research) actual people in prison with Emma. It’s an incredibly impressive show that Marty wrote – it’s professional level.”
Jeffrey Imm, the Maryland-based founder of Responsible for Equality And Liberty, said in an email to the Moab Sun News that Goldman’s views should not be glamorized or normalized.
According to Imm, Goldman defended the ideals of assassin Leon Czolgosz – the man who killed former President William McKinley – in a book entitled “The Psychology of Political Violence.”
“You may or may not like former U.S. President William McKinley, but he was a fellow American and a fellow human being who did not deserve to be murdered, a fact that clearly escaped the ‘quick-witted’ Emma Goldman, who only ‘danced’ on his grave,” Imm said. “President McKinley murdered at only 58 years old, left behind a wife and two children. ‘Charasmatic’ (sic) Emma Goldman didn’t seem to care much about their rights and dignity.”
Durlin referenced historic records while writing the piece. She visited the Emma Goldman Papers Project at UC-Berkeley, where she viewed newspapers and magazines from the era.
There’s a lot of vocal harmony – with Pam Petersen writing the harmonies that accompany Durlin’s original music.
“It’s really beautiful; it adds another dimension to the music,” Durlin said. “It reinforces the play as an ensemble piece.”
The crew includes sound engineers Bob Owen and Dave Montgomery, stage manager Joanne Savoie, and assistant Serah Mead.
“It’s our third year doing live radio plays in Moab,” Durlin said.
The two previous plays, “Downtown Abbey” and “Downtown Abbey Two,” were satirical pieces based on Moab and the writings of Edward Abbey. “Downtown Abbey” received an Honorable Mention from the Firesign Theatre’s Mark Time Awards. The second drama featured four local child actors.
A Russian Jew, Goldman came to the United States at age 16, fleeing poverty and a violent father. She discovered a group of radicals in New York City, and became a noted activist herself. The play’s title “Beautiful Radiant Things” comes from a Goldman quote: “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”
Anarchist Emma Goldman is the subject of “Beautiful Radiant Things”
“We partly chose it for the anarchy connection with Edward Abbey – that ‘question authority’ spirit that anarchy is akin to.”
When: Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m.
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
Information: 435-259-8824; Tickets available at Canyonlands Copy Center, 375 S Main St., KZMU Community Radio, 1734 Rocky Road, and at the door.
Tickets are available at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St.; WabiSabi, 160 E. 100 South; KZMU, 1734 Rocky Road; and Canyonlands Copy Center, 375 S. Main St. Tickets will also be available at the door.