MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘RBG: Of Many, One’ reveals the remarkable life and achievements of US judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Gill Canning

<em>Heather Mitchell in 'RBG Of Many, One', credit: Prudence Upton</em>
Heather Mitchell in 'RBG Of Many, One', credit: Prudence Upton
In 2013, when she was in her 80s, Democrat US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became an overnight cultural icon known as the ‘Notorious RBG’, finding fame with millennials as a pop culture meme. As the second women elected to the US Supreme Court, she was a judge for 25 years, and became the leading voice for gender equality, women's interests, and civil rights and liberties in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Now, RBG: Of Many, One, a one-woman play written about her life by lawyer-turned-playwright Suzie Miller is debuting at the Sydney Theatre Company, starring Australian actress Heather Mitchell.
The play opens with Ginsburg anxiously awaiting a call from then-president Bill Clinton to tell her whether or not she has been selected as the next sitting Justice of the nine-person US Supreme Court. As she waits, she muses on her life.

Heather Mitchell in ‘RBG Of Many, One’, credit: Prudence Upton

The audience is privy to her underprivileged childhood as the only surviving child of Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York, when her fiercely intelligent but thwarted mother exhorts her to practise patience and “never raise her voice above others” in order to achieve her goals. We see her academic success at Harvard and Cornell Law Schools, where her professor taught her how she could “change things with words”, her subsequent difficulty in finding a job as a lawyer at a time when women in the law were almost unheard of, and ultimately, her ever-expanding list of wins in cases representing women (and occasionally men) discriminated against under the law on the basis of their gender.

There is also her life outside the law with her husband, Martin, two children and granddaughter, Clara – whom she teaches from childhood that “girls belong in the places decisions are made”.

Lasting 90 minutes, the play’s only actor onstage at any time is Heather Mitchell – playing Ginsburg as well as voicing several others including presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump. The energy and focus of such a role is not to be underestimated and Mitchell is compelling and impressive, earning a well-deserved standing ovation.

A quiet achiever seen mostly on the Australian stage rather than our TV screens, Heather Mitchell has not been as well-known as other Australian actresses of her generation (think Greta Scacchi, Sigrid Thornton, Judy Davis) but this tour de force performance proves her time has come.

RBG: Of Many, One
Sydney Theatre Company
Until 23 December, 2022
sydneytheatre.com.au

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