It takes three hatboxes, a suitcase and an “armload” of costumes for Melinda Strobel to resurrect five women from the 1800s American West.Among the women in Strobel’s one-woman show, “Western Women — Pioneers and Prostitutes,” are a nun, a stagecoach driver, a doctor and a prostitute.
The name of the prostitute, Molly b’Damn, might be recognizable because of the annual Molly B. Damn Days in Murray, Idaho, which celebrate the legendary town madam and humanitarian with look-a-like contests and shoot out re-enactments. Other women portrayed by Strobel are not as familiar, but the things they say and do are based on primary sources that preserved their unique stories.
“This is not a lecture about history. It’s history on its feet,” says Strobel, 51, who studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and has a degree in theater from Willamette University.
As a working actor who was out of work two decades ago, Strobel created a one-woman traveling show about Susan B. Anthony. She was performing in Idaho in 1996 when a librarian suggested she do a show about Molly b’Damn.
“People are often concerned about the prostitute,” Strobel says of her Western women show that is often funded by educational grants. “My church ladies love her. She gets away with saying and doing things that challenge some assumptions.”
Strobel, who resides in Portland, Ore., doesn’t just talk as the women she portrays. She aims to draw audiences in close. As Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair, the first female doctor in Oregon, she performs an autopsy.
“It’s people being involved in a piece of their lives,” says Strobel, who will perform the show at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lewiston City Library.
“It leads to some interesting discussions about how women were perceived in history, and choices that were available to women in that time, and how our lives have changed or not changed.”
if you go
WHAT: Western Women Pioneers and Prostitutes
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28
WHERE: Lewiston City Library, 411 D St., Lewiston