REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Miss Marx: or the involuntary side effects of living

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Miss Marx: or the involuntary side effects of living

Directed by Megan Shuchman

At Strawdog Theatre, Chicago

Promising new drama gets bogged down with slow pace and over staging

Philip Dawkins is a playwright with much talent demonstrating  versatility, an ear for smart dialogue, and a provocative storyteller  who uses  complex themes and motifs. His latest work, Miss Marx or the involuntary side effects of living, now playing at Strawdog Theatre, is an ambitious look at the life of a relatively unknown historical figure – Eleanor Marx (Dana Black), the youngest daughter of Karl Marx. This historical fictional drama is based on know facts of Eleanor or “Tussy’s” (as she was called by those close to her) Marx’s life

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In its strongest moments, Miss Marx is a riveting and complex glimpse into the life and character of the amazing Tussy Marx. Played with gusto, depth, and a haunting sense of her own contradictory personality by Dana Black, Miss Marx is fascinating story that, once it is cleared from the clutter that bogs it down,  could emerge into a major theatrical event. Dawkins has captured a most interesting figure in Tussy. She is the youngest daughter of the founder of Communism –  Karl Marx. She became the flag-bearer of her father’s legacy. She was a feminist who was active in socialist movements as she fought for social and sexual injustice in Victorian England in the 1880-90’s. She spoke and wrote in seven languages translating major works of literature into English. She was a famed actress introducing Ibsen’s A Doll House to London audiences. She was an active soapbox orator who passionately preached for social and political change in England and the USA. Family members refereed her toughness to being ‘manly’ thus she became know in the family as the son Karl Marx always wanted.


We also see Tussy as a love-starved woman who meets Edward Aveling (John Ferrick)- a socialist scientist with whom she move in with in a common law marriage situation since Aveling is actually married but separated. Tussy experiences the joy of being treated  both sexually and romantically as a woman  by Edward. The two have a rocky relationship wherein the two test their free status that complicate their personal relationship. Their separation caused Tussy to become extremely depressed.

The work has a subplot about Tussy and her relationship with Freddy (Benjamin Sprunger), her closed gay closed friend who lives in the same house as her father and Frederick Engels (Matt Holzfeind), Karl’s longtime friend and writing collaborator. Freddy’s story is highly developed as it seems to compete with Miss Marx’s for stage time. I’d advise developing more of the  Tussy-Edward dynamic and cutting the unnecessary musical interludes that add nothing to the story. Also, the casting of a woman (Justine C. Turner) as an obnoxious males child, Harry, the son of Freddy was a strange choice. Why not cast a child actor?

In conclusion, Miss Marx needs some judicious cuts, a tighter focus with the elimination of the gimmicks such as the music interludes. Give us more about Miss Marx and Aveling and less about Freddy. Eleanor Marx’s life is enough for a worthy play, so trim the fat and stay on her, she is fascinating. Dana Black is terrific as the contradictory historical figure doomed to a troubled life. This show is worth a look.


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Miss Marx page at

At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, call 773-528-9696,, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4p,, Monday,March 3 at 7 pm is Industry night, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through March 29, 2014

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