At the start of “Ladies of Liberty,” a new period comedy by Lexington playwright Bo List, a New York City radio station in the 1940s finds itself in a bit of a pickle when the cast of “The Mighty Men,” its highly rated radio drama about a band of superheroes, is drafted for real-life duty in World War II.
The solution is to start a new show, “Ladies of Liberty,” about their super-powered wives — “a Justice League Of Their Own,” as List wryly puts it. The radio station assembles a ragtag troupe of actresses to perform the new show, which quickly becomes a hit, scoring boffo ratings and receiving thousands of fan letters.
“Over the course of a year, they come to realize that not only is it popular but it’s very meaningful, especially to young girls listening to it over the radio,” says Tim X. Davis of Bluegrass Community & Technical College Theatre, which is mounting the play’s world premiere this weekend at the Downtown Arts Center.
Trouble strikes when the radio station, anticipating the return of the men from the war, cancels “Ladies of Liberty.” Like the generation of real-life Rosie the Riveters who manned — womaned? — the factories during WWII only to be sent back to the kitchen and the bedroom once the war ended, the Ladies of Liberty cast finds itself facing unemployment and irrelevance.
“The station manager is hesitant to keep the show on the air because the little girls who are its biggest fans don’t buy sponsored products,” Davis says. “It’s all about money-money-money.”
But wait! The actresses — who’ve grown into a tight-knit band of wide-eyed ingenues and brassy dames getting their first heady taste of sisterhood — “aren’t ready to hang up their capes,” List says. “They end up taking matters into their own hands so they can do one last show on their own terms.”
The play is a labor of love for List, producing artistic director of AthensWest Theatre Company, who had long wanted to write a script set in the world of radio dramas such as “The Adventures of Superman,” a syndicated serial that ran from 1940 to 1951, and “The Shadow” (1937-1954). “As research, I listened to radio dramas and screwball comedies from the era, trying to pick up an ear for the style,” he says. “It was a lot of fun.”
In and around all the fun, however, some significant messages get sent. “I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to say, as a white dude, that I’ve written a feminist work,” List says. “But I can say that I’ve written out of great admiration for the strength and capability of women.”
And if “Ladies of Liberties” has an overarching theme, it’s that there’s some measure of heroism in everyone. “Sometimes a heroic act can be stopping a speeding train that’s about to run into a car full of children,” he says. “And sometimes a heroic act is just standing up for yourself, or standing up for a friend.”
‘Ladies of Liberty’ by BCTC Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 2; 2 p.m. Nov. 3
Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St., Lexington
Info: (859) 425-2550 or https://bit.ly/2HD5e3d