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Wednesday, Aug 14 1996
Found Woman
Women are still and regularly written out of history. When not invisible, women's stories are frequently deformed in their patriarchal telling. Some years ago, soprano Susheel Bibbs was asked if she would be interested in performing the role of Mary Pleasant in a planned operatic biography. Bibbs expressed some interest, but first wanted to know just who Mary Pleasant was. The opera was never written, but Bibbs' curiosity about Pleasant led to a multicountry odyssey, and a search for the truth.

"The first book I found about her," Bibbs explains, "was written in the '50s. It was called a biography, but Pleasant's life was depicted through the eyes of another person. I decided to look at the original papers, and I found a dynamic and heroic woman. The search led me all over the country, and I was able to find her unpublished writings, including her memoirs."

Pleasant, a former Georgia slave, was a well-known San Francisco madam and highly paid cook who in time amassed a great fortune. She became an abolitionist and a tireless worker for justice at a time when women had precious few rights and African-Americans even fewer. Bibbs continues: "This woman could love across boundaries. She was born in slavery, but she learned to love people as people, not categories. She listened to her own voice and fought the power brokers of her time. She didn't see boundaries between people or for herself. She was a woman of great courage who said, 'I'd rather be a corpse than a coward.' "

Using music of the period, and Pleasant's own words, Bibbs re-creates Pleasant's life and times as part of the Afro Solo Festival. "She is really a woman for our time," Bibbs says. "When times get hard people get meaner. We need to hear her story, to learn about our heritage." Pleasant worked for civil rights, for human rights, but she also found joy in life. "People take life too seriously," Pleasant wrote. "I take life as a joke and get a lot of fun out of it." Bibbs' musical biography of Mary Pleasant will be performed on Aug. 23. Call 621-7797 for tickets.

Discount tickets are available for students for Mrs. Klein, starring theater legend Uta Hagen, at the Geary Theater. You'll need to show a valid student ID at the box office two hours before the performance and each student is limited to one ticket. ... The Bennett TheaterLab, one of the few acting schools around based on the Stanislavsky System, offers a festival of scenes and one-acts at the Noh Space performed by the students. The Lab teaches that the superobjective of theater is the evolution of the human spirit. Sounds good to me. Call 282-1520 for tickets.

By Deborah Peifer

About The Author

Deborah Peifer


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