‘Bull in a China store’ – The Source

Jeannette Marks (left) and Mary Woolley. (Photo: Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.)

“Do you want a revolution? asks Jeannette Marques.

“I am a revolution”, replies Mary Woolley.

And so was she. A peace activist, suffrage supporter, political organizer and longtime president of Mount Holyoke College, Woolley helped transform college education for women in the United States.

In “Bull in a china shop,” Playwright Bryna Turner brings an irreverent and insightful sensibility to Woolley’s groundbreaking career and decades-long romance with Marks, chair of Mount Holyoke’s English department.

“It’s a very contemporary piece that’s rooted in historical fact,” said Annamaria Pileggiprofessor of drama practice in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who will lead the show April 14-17 at the AE Hotchner Studio Theater.

“They were brave women who, in an era when lesbian relationships were largely hidden, behaved to all intents and purposes like a married couple,” Pileggi added. “What they have been able to accomplish, both in their public and private lives, is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Correcting the story

Turner, a 2012 Mount Holyoke graduate, discovered Woolley and Marks through a digital exhibition promoted on the college Instagram account. She describes “Bull in a China Shop,” which debuted at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2017, as both “a dig into queer history” and “a queering of history.”

“As a queer person, I’ve been left out of a lot of stories,” Turner told Mount Holyoke Alumni Magazine. “That’s something I was trying to fix.”

Woolley, born in 1863, was the daughter of a minister and the first student to attend Brown University. After earning her master’s degree, in 1895 she joined the faculty of Wellesley College, teaching biblical literature and history. There she meets Marks, 10 years her junior. When Woolley left for Mount Holyoke in 1901, Marks – who had graduated the previous year – followed as an English instructor.

Based on the actual correspondence of Woolley and Marks, “Bull in a China Shop” begins in 1899, when Woolley was first offered the post of Mount Holyoke, and follows the couple through Woolley’s retirement in 1937. Yet the decades unfold quickly, across 24 short scenes. packed into a brisk 90 minutes.


“It’s very cinematic,” said Pileggi, “which is challenging, but also incredibly satisfying. lighting and sound. Our team did a great job.”

During his long tenure, Woolley modernized Mount Holyoke’s curriculum, instituting honors courses, expanding graduate programs, and hiring more faculty with advanced degrees. She also increased the endowment tenfold and supervised the construction of 16 new buildings. Marks, meanwhile, went from English instructor to department head; welcomed contemporary authors and encouraged debates on modern literature; and founded what would become the theater department.

But as the piece details, these accomplishments have not been without controversy. Some professors have complained about Marks’ rise. Some administrators sought to replace Woolley with a man.

“They definitely created waves,” Pileggi said. “I hope this play leaves people with an idea of ​​just how radical these women are. One hundred and twenty years later, I wonder if Woolley and Marks would be encouraged by our progress or discouraged by the amount of work we have yet to do. To do.

Cast and crew

The cast of five stars Sarah Wilkinson as Woolley and Samantha Campisi as Marks. Natasha Cole is the purse-lipped, tradition-conscious Dean Welsh. Ella Sherlock is Felicity, a professor of philosophy and Marks’ nominal roommate in off-campus housing. Sofia McGrath is Pearl, an obsessively devoted student.

The costumes are by Dominique Rhea Green, with stage design by Robert Mark Morgan. Props are by Emily Frei. Lighting design is by Seth Kleinberg, with sound design by Benjamin Lewis. Payne Banister is assistant director. Minjoo Kim is a playwright. The manager is Simran Wadhwa.


Performances of “Bull in a China Shop” begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, April 14, 15, and 16; and at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17. The AE Hotchner Studio Theater is located at the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.

Tickets are $20 or $15 for seniors, students, and WashU faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theater Box Office. For more information call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.

View campus information COVID-19 policies here.

Laura J. Boyer