Director Kelly Parker couldn't have foreseen the current national discussion on women and their treatment by men when he chose Jessica Swale's "Blue Stockings" to open McLennan Theatre's 2018-19 season.

He was looking largely for a play that would provide roles for the growing number of women in MCC's theater program as well as content that was pertinent to their experience. "I wanted something meaty and relevant to where they are," he said.

With issues of women's rights and roles at college, albeit one more than a century ago, "Blue Stockings" has the relevance question nailed.

Swale's play looks at four women attending Griton College, Cambridge in 1896: Tess (Brayden Braziel); a somewhat bohemian Carolyn (Annie DeYoung); bookish Celia (Avery Carlisle); and Maeve (Kate Hodge), on scholarship and from a lower social class than most of the men at the university.

Attending is the operative word here: The four women are allowed to attend classes with their male counterparts, but cannot earn a degree from their studies. In some classes, they're not allowed to participate in the discussions between male students and male professors.

For Tess, that's inherently unfair and she pushes back against faculty and students irritated that she doesn't know her place, both in the university and in English society of the times. To them, she's a blue stocking, the nickname given a female intellectual, borrowed from the 18th century female-founded Blue Stockings Society, a literary social circle.

The foursome find themselves up against prevailing social roles for women that limit them due to perceived weakness, physically and intellectually, compared to men or out-and-out objectification by the men around them. 

Swale created the characters in her play, but its story was built on truth: Female Cambridge students could study there, but weren't allowed to earn degrees until the 1940s.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor