Wanting to be “bad,” to rebel against the prescribed behaviors society thrusts upon you and relish in your deviation from social norms, is something many people can sympathize with. It is this fantasy that Dorothy Leeds describes in her one-woman show “Good Lessons from Bad Women,” which tells the tale of her reflections on infamous women and the lessons they have imparted to her. The show was performed at Ramapo's Adler Theater on Saturday.
In the play, Reeds revisits her studies of the biblical character Eve, actress and sex symbol Mae West, Chinese empress Wu Zetian, Kathryn Kelley, wife of infamous gangster "Machine Gun Kelly," Elizabeth Freeman, a former slave who sued for her freedom and won and the famed female pirate Anne Bonny.
Eve needs little introduction, for our society is permeated with her presence due to the influence of Christianity. Throughout history her alliance with the serpent has served as sacred justification of the inferior status of women compared to men. But here we get an interesting interpretation of this "first sinner." Dorothy Leeds, through her wit and craftiness, presents an adventurous, thoughtful Eve, who stands in sharp contrast to the conservative and restrained Adam. While she wonders about the world outside of the garden, Adam, in contrast, is merely concerned with his garden and complains about his missing rib. This stands in sharp contrast to the values of restraint and comfort often associated with the "fairer sex" even today.
This trend is continued by Leeds during her impersonation of the first female emperor of China, Wu Zetian. When given the chance to become one of the emperor’s consorts, Wu used her position to gain favor with the current emperor, which allowed her to gain access to documents and writings concerning national affairs and political philosophy.
Through this study she became an influential advisor to the emperor’s son when it came time for him to rule, and when the opportunity presented itself through the murder of her child, she had the emperor’s wife executed, taking her place and later becoming emperor herself. Wu lead China into prosperity, once again representing a deviation from the stereotypes of femininity by showing incredible intelligence and ambition, standing in contrast to the feminine archetype.
Speaking of which, Anne Bonny, as presented by the play, is a significant departure from "acceptable" behaviors for women in regards to sexuality. While women are expected to be sexually restrained and lacking in physicality, Anne Bonny was quite voluptuous and skilled with a blade. Her sexual misadventures caused her father to disown her and during one of her more famous escapades was able to drive her simple foil through her rival, who wielded a mighty cutlass.
The tales of these historical figures detailed here and in the show all culminate into the play's final message, which is to not concern yourself with the expectations of society or others when shaping your identity. Shape it for the enjoyment of yourself and history will be made.