Praise Song for the Day: Women Matter: Fran Bennett and the Untraditional
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Untraditional roles are like shaking a snow globe or dragging a needle across an LP. Each makes you do double-take and perhaps even correct your vision about how things are supposed to be. Gender norms and roles are just that. Norms and roles.
For instance, I was stuck in traffic recently watching a woman jackhammer the roadway near an intersection in our little town. The woman behind the jackhammer thought very little of it, I’m sure, but for me and the little girl in the car seat next to my car, we were both mesmerized.
One other area that shakes the snow globe better than any that I know is in the mostly contained world of professional make-believe. Since even before the time of Shakespeare, men have often played women’s parts. However, women in Los Angeles have also played the male characters in some of the Bard’s most enduring plays.
The great and versatile actor Fran Bennett did this better than anyone. Bennett’s stage and screen career spanned nearly years, debuting when she appeared in “The Guiding Light” in 1965–66.
Other than her roles in other soaps and in the Star Trek series as an intergalactic midwife, Fran Bennett has been most known for her work on stage, as one of the leading members of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and particularly as co-founder of the Los Angeles Women Shakespeare Company. In various productions, Bennett has played “Friar Lawrence” in “Romeo and Juliet,” “Lear” in “King Lear,” and “Othello” in “Othello” among other roles. Yet, what the stretching in and out of various gender roles makes for is a highly versatile actor. Bennett created characters with the scope and range of any other actor of her generation.
This Praise Song for the Day is for those women like Fran Bennett and others who defy gender stereotypes, leaping into a world dominated by men, creating grooves of their own the record of life.
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Like a daily gratitude practice, Praise Song for the Day will be a way of appreciating what we know we know in a different and perhaps even profoundly deeper way. This column takes its name from a poem of the same title by Elizabeth Alexander called “Praise Song for the Day,” delivered twelve years ago at the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Clap back if you dig the piece.