Congressional Expectations: Baby On Board in Both Your Houses
Maxwell Anderson, writing in 1931, probably never anticipated married women, let alone expectant mothers, holding down executive positions in Washington DC, but when Linda Gillum—cast as Greta "Bus" Nillson, the savvy secretary who helps the idealistic crusader of Both Your Houses battle his weasely colleagues—announced that she would be visibly pregnant on opening night, the creative staff at Remy Bumppo Theater Company sat down to discuss what this news might entail in dramatic terms.
Movies and television can hide gestational symptoms by means of camera angles or post-production editing, but live theater mandates a multiple-vantage view of the mom-to-be over several weeks. In addressing this requirement, Gillum and [director] James Bohnen first looked to Anderson's text—noting, for example, the irrefutable case for funding of family-planning programs made by the lone female representative on the Congressional Appropriations Committee, coming on the heels of our intrepid female employee protesting her recent notice of layoff ("I liked my job—and I needed it").
"Any woman choosing to continue working while openly pregnant would be taking a risk in 1931," Bohnen admits, but the frequent references in the script attesting to Bus' experience at navigating the ins and outs of horse-trading at the federal level led him to conclude that her value to the "old boys club" could easily have transcended social conventions. If the other characters exhibited uniform acceptance of their co-worker's condition, audiences would likely follow their example.
This left only the problem of imagining a maternity version of mid-twentieth century formal business attire. After extensive research, costume designer Emily Waeker decided that Bus would wear a two-piece skirt suit with different blouses cut to allow room for an expanding silhouette. The already plus-sized skirt was tailored for Gillum as she appeared during tech rehearsals, "but will probably need to be let out again by wardrobe personnel during the run," Gillum sighs, but then brightens, "Emily found me nice low-heeled pumps and even pregnancy-pantihose with seams up the back! We were so lucky to have her with us."
A full equity performance regimen is still pretty strenuous, even for an actor not constantly making physical adjustments to unevenly-distributed extra weight, but Gillum is unperturbed. "The baby actually made its stage debut last April, in Our Class, which was much more physically challenging than this one. I'll admit that it's kind of surreal when the baby kicks while I'm onstage, but so far I'm able to ignore it. After all, if it's Bus who's pregnant, then this is an everyday natural occurrence to her."
As a precaution, however, Bohnen confesses to securing an understudy [Laurel Schroeder] prepared to step in at any moment. In addition, he reports, Gillum is "under strict orders—from me and from our stage manager, Baleigh [Isaacs]—to keep us apprised of her day-to-day disposition and not attempt anything heroic."
Both Your Houses runs at the Greenhouse through November 9.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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