Playwright Jonathan Shapiro titled his play “Sisters in Law”, but they weren’t actually sisters. Their relationship arose as a result of their mutual passion for the law.
The elegant Sandra Day O’Connor, born in Texas and raised on a 198,000-acre cattle ranch in Arizona that was nine miles from the nearest paved road and that didn’t have running water or electricity until she was seven years old, grew up to become the first woman in history to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.
Having graduated magna cum laude from Stanford University at the age of 20, she went on to Stanford Law School for her law degree, but upon graduation was unable to find a job because she was a woman. And so she began her career working for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary.
By the time President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1981 she had established her reputation as a conservative Republican with strong opinions, sometimes on both sides of an issue like abortion or affirmative action. But being the only women among eight male colleagues, she often compromised or deferred to their judgment.
She was the only woman on the court until 1993, when President Bill Clinton appointed the liberal Democrat Ruth Bader Ginsburg to join her. A feisty, brilliant, and strongly opinionated juror, Ginsburg readily acknowledged that some people considered her “a pushy Jewish New Yorker,” but that didn’t deter her from her lifelong crusade for gender equality and women’s rights.
Her impatience for immediate change did not sit well with O’Connor, who insisted that change couldn’t be rushed and that the men on the court (“especially the Chief”) hated change and were quite comfortable with the way things were.
And so the two women sparred, with Ruth pragmatic and logical and Sandra responding with wise-cracks. “You want equality? Bullying for all?” Sandra demands. “That’s silly!” And she adds, “Nobody gets here by being humble. We got here by pretending to be humble!”
“The law is a leader,” Sandra continues, “and we apply the law! We get the last word!” And finally she asserts, “I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt!”
Ruth is never in doubt either, and the play delves into the specifics of many of her cases and how she won them, which is a fascinating diversion for the audience. And she and Sandra eventually come to appreciate each other and relax into a warm friendship.
As she leaves the court in order to take care of her husband, who has developed Alzheimer’s, Sandra sums up, “When you’re old you get to tell the truth, but the only time we’re equal is at the end. The law is an ongoing conversation, but Time gets the last word.”
The two actors, who give an absolutely stunning performance under the superb direction of Patricia McGregor, are Tovuh Feldshuh as Ruth and Stephanie Faracy as Sandra. Their performances are enhanced by the exceptional scenic design of Rachel Myers and the projection design of Yee Eun Nam, who keep everything moving swiftly and smoothly by providing moving images in black and white on the screen in the background.
This play is a must-see, especially if you’ve seen the recent documentaries of the notorious RBG. You’ll love seeing her in person, represented by the fabulous and ubiquitous Tovah Feldshuh, and you’ll enjoy the relationship and dialog between the two Supremes.
“Sisters in Law” can be seen at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills weekdays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. through Sunday, October 13. Call 310-746-4000 for tickets.