Lack of diversity in ‘#GetGandhi’ subverts feminist message

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Julie Schuchard/Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective /Courtesy

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Mohandas K. Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, is one of the most well-remembered historical figures out there, but The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits Theatre Collective thinks feminists may see his story differently.

“#GetGandhi: A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy” written by Anne Galjour and directed by Nancy Carlin is playing at Z Below in San Francisco through Aug. 26. Set in San Francisco, it tells the story of a group of feminists who set out to take Gandhi off of his pedestal — literally. They plot to take down the statue of him located along the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building. The group is motivated to do so after learning of one of Gandhi’s experiments in celibacy — he would order young women to undress and sleep naked next to him. Gandhi allegedly saw this as a way to prove his celibacy, but the feminists of the play see this as a form of sexual assault.

This play brings feminist issues to the forefront of conversation, diving much deeper than just Gandhi’s story. But with Gandhi as the center of the plot, this story is missing one key component: a diverse voice, particularly one of Indian heritage. By maintaining a cast of characters that lacks racial diversity, “#GetGandhi” dilutes its own message and fails to reach the potential of the clever script.

Galjour’s script is one of the biggest strengths of this play. It is incredibly smart and witty, often tweaking everyday phrases to match the devoted feminism of the core characters — for example, they consistently say “oh, my goddess” throughout the play. The script also efficiently uses the Gandhi debate as a foundation for broader feminist issues, successfully bringing attention to incidents of sexual assault that aren’t rape but still need to be discussed. Each of the characters are fleshed out and distinct, each contributing to compelling interactions within the plot. But these characters are all white and, consequently, as a collective, present a selective, exclusionary version of feminism.

One of the central feminists, Helen (Jeri Lynn Cohen) must deal with the pushback of her husband, Bob (Howard Swain), who can’t quite let go of his admiration for Gandhi. Bob is representative of a man who claims he is “proud to be a feminist” yet doesn’t support his wife’s efforts to remove the statue, instead calling her irrational. During their argument, Bob points out that Gandhi’s culture is different from theirs.

Bob may be wrong in this debate, choosing a historical figure’s side over his wife’s, but he is right in pointing this out. His comment is the closest the play gets to addressing the fact that the entire scheme is based around a culture the play’s characters aren’t a part of. There is no excuse for a lack of diversity in this production.

Despite this glaring flaw in the play’s groundwork, many of the smaller details of the production are done quite well. All of the cast members are evidently talented, taking on the roles they were given with ease. They employ the clever dialogue expertly to make for fast-moving scenes and presenting a captivating onstage group dynamic. The three feminists — Helen, Maya (Miranda Swain) and Miriam (Patricia Silver) — have palpable chemistry together, spanning a wide age range and representing feminist views at different stages of life.

“#GetGandhi” is full of feminist topics that need to be talked about. It weaves different layers of feminism together in a way that is fascinating and thought-provoking. The play has the potential to be the radical feminist comedy that it wants to be, but its crucial lack of intersectionality distracts from the elements it gets right. Feminism is important, but inclusive feminism is more so and “#GetGandhi” subverts itself by letting that imperative detail slip by unaccounted for.

“#GetGandhi: A Seriously Radical Feminist Comedy” is playing at Z Below through Aug. 26.

Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected]. Tweet her at @Nikki_m9.