Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
Two shows at this year's Asheville Fringe Arts Festival will be tackling issues important in our contemporary moment. Notably, both are also one-person shows. Mother Jones in Heaven and Ox, which concentrate on the historical activist Mother Jones and illegal immigration, respectively, will be performed at Fringe twice each. Fringe starts tonight with a kickoff party at one of the festival's newest venues, the Sly Grog Lounge, and performances begin Thursday.
Solo shows can present a special challenge to performers and to audiences unaccustomed to this particular form of theatre. In my experience, however, solo shows at past Fringe Festivals have been my favorite, creating an intimate space between actor and audience that is rare to experience. And importantly, solo shows are not created in a vacuum, but rather with the support of writers, directors, and others who play vital roles in the production process.
Such is the case with these two shows. Actress Vivian Nesbitt (of Breaking Bad, The Night Shift, and Longmire) will play the titular Mother Jones of Si Kahn's musical, and she'll be supported by director Alice Jankell and musical accompanist John Dillon. Actor Mark Suggs stars in Ox as a bookstore employee under the direction of writer Derek Davidson.
A Passion for Change
Called "the most dangerous woman in American" during her lifetime, labor activist and community organizer Mary Harris "Mother" Jones is the subject of Mother Jones in Heaven, which takes a deep dive into the woman behind the reputation. Actress Vivian Nesbitt, who shares Irish ancestry with Mother Jones, was drawn to the musical, and the character, during the Obama administration, but elected not to perform the piece. After the election of Donald Trump, however, the timing seemed right.
"There's an education that I think has been lost about Mother Jones, the working class, and the poor," says Nesbitt. "And so I think she really needs to get back out there and start cracking some heads."
Vivian Nesbitt as Mother Jones.
Jones had a reputation of being a firebrand, a petite woman whose swagger and foul language gave her an entrée into circles that might otherwise not have been so welcoming. Although she was known for many accomplishments during her life, two of her greatest were banding together mine workers and their families against mine owners (the event that gave her that intimidating moniker of "most dangerous"), and organizing a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt, in New York, as a protest of inadequate child labor laws.
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