Jeanmarie (Simpson) Bishop is Founding Artistic Director of the Arizona Theatre Matters. She has written and performed hundreds of times over a period of 12 years the play A Single Woman, about the life of the first US Congresswoman and pacifist Jeannette Rankin. She starred in the film version that featured Judd Nelson, the voices of Martin Sheen and Patricia Arquette, and the music of Joni Mitchell. In 2007, she appeared at the historic Beverly Hills Theater 40 in the American premier of the solo tour-de-force Shakespeare Will, produced by Leonard Nimoy. She is highly regarded for her interpretation of heroic women in modern and historic times.
Jeanmarie (Simpson) Bishop was born in rural Arizona in 1959. Her family moved to Toronto in 1970 and she fell in love with the theatre after seeing, with her 7th grade class, the legendary production of Godspell (featuring Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy and Martin Short).
She performed dozens of roles in regional theatre and stock in the US and Canada and began directing while still in her teens. Jeanmarie is Founding Artistic Director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company (NSC), from which she retired in 2008. With NSC she directed many projects, wrote original works and played myriad parts including Maude Gonne in Sailing to Byzantium, Gertrude in Hamlet, Lady M in Macbeth and Elsa in The Road to Mecca, directed by Zakes Mokae.
Jeanmarie wrote and performed more than 300 times (in a world tour that included a run Off-Broadway) the play A Single Woman, about the life of first US Congresswoman and lifelong pacifist, Jeannette Rankin. She also starred in the film version that featured Judd Nelson, the voices of Martin Sheen and Patricia Arquette and the music of Joni Mitchell.
In 2007, she appeared at the historic Beverly Hills Theatre 40 in the American premiere of the solo tour-de- force Shakespeare’s Will, produced by Leonard Nimoy.
Jeanmarie is a cradle Catholic, a Quaker and lifetime member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While attending a December 2008 meeting of WILPF’s Tucson branch, she met Shannon Cain, co-editor of the anthology Powder: writing by women in the ranks from Vietnam to Iraq. The two quickly agreed that the book could make a fine theatre piece, and Coming In Hot was conceived. Following an adaptation and rehearsal period of nine months, the play opened at Tucson’s Rhythm Industry Performance Factory. Simpson began an international tour of Coming In Hot in March of 2010, taking it throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
She was commissioned by the Be the Change project to create a piece based on interviews with Dreamers; Liberty’s Children premiered at the Potentialist Workshop in Reno, Nevada in March 2014.
She toured with Mary’s Joy from 2011-2014. She was denied entry at England’s Heathrow airport in February 2015, after which she took a hiatus from theatre for 18 months. She now performs the play under a new title, The Joy. She lives with her husband, Dan, in a cottage with a garden in Glendale, Arizona.
REVIEW in Western Friend
While attending Westminster Meeting in London four years ago two Friends, from separate continents, raved about a play they had seen at the FGC Gathering at Kingston, Rhode Island that summer. Mary’s Joy was written and performed by Jeanmarie (Simpson) Bishop, concerning the life and death of Mary Dyer. Westminster Meeting is a stone’s throw from the parish of St Martin-in-the- Fields where Mary and William Dyer married in Puritan England in 1633. Today, three hundred and eighty-three years later that play, entitled The Joy, has been published.
Mary Dyer was a seventeenth century Quaker. Jeanmarie Bishop’s play is set during the last twenty-four hours of her life prior to her hanging on Boston Common on July 1st, 1660, for refusing to stop preaching Quaker Truth and Testimonies. In Jeanmarie’s telling we are privy to the joy and conviction Mary found in the Inward Light, her love for her family, and her willingness to die in order to reveal that Truth which had been censored by Christian institutions for centuries. Had she been willing to compromise, her liberty would have been assured.
How could she do this to her husband and children? All is revealed in Jeanmarie’s sensitive and insightful portrayal as Mary searches her conscience and memories during those last hours of her life. She was a passionate woman, unafraid of following her leading and prepared to die for her belief in God’s direct guidance. She wanted to ensure longevity for Friends in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and convince its rulers to revoke their laws banning Quakers.
The thought of dying for one’s faith causes great distress in our modern world. We hear, almost daily, of fanatics who clothe themselves in perverted religiousity, executing horrific acts of violence as a means to address worldly injustices. Mary Dyer’s sacrifice was an act of love, allowing herself to become a vehicle to bring awareness of a loving God into the world.
Little is known about Mary. She married William Dyer, they emigrated to New England in 1635, and she was executed by hanging in 1660. In Boston the Dyers supported Puritan Church reformers. That, combined with the birth and death of a deformed baby, forced them to move to Rhode Island. Mary returned to England in 1651 and joined the first generation of Friends who were convinced by George Fox. Seven years later she returned to Boston but was jailed, then banished, for having become a Quaker. Jeanmarie Bishop fills in the details of her life, set within factual historical parameters, in a plausible and deeply moving way . Her use of language, at times heightened to imply a past century’s culture, is easily read by a contemporary audience. Not one word reads false; not a thought that doesn’t ring true. Her switching back and forth between mid-seventeenth century Quaker-style speech and a more modern voice is almost imperceptible.
Mary Dyer’s family rescued her twice, but the third time none could sway her determination. She became a martyr for the sin of following her own conscience. Her seventeenth century feminism raged against the old biblical patriarchy and the injustices this hierarchical mind-set inflicted, not only upon women, but on all who sought to worship God as they understood him, and to live in a manner meaningful to every man and woman alike. The Joy is a wonderful addition to both home and meeting libraries, adding to our knowledge of Early Friends’ history. It helps to increase a little more our understanding of the mid-seventeenth century, in both Old and New England. – Kirsten Ebsen, Vancouver Meeting, BC
REVIEW by Chuck Fager
The Joy is a fine match of actor and playwright. Jeanmarie Simpson performed it from the script for a crowd packed into a large classroom the University of Rhode Island in the summer of 2012. We were there at the Friends General Conference.
In the play, we meet Mary Dyer, the Quaker woman who has returned to Puritan Boston in June of 1660. She is there in defiance of an order from its rulers that if she comes back, as a damnable heretic, she faces the gallows.
In a searching interior monologue, on the morning when she is awaiting the hangman’s knock at her prison door, she examines her life, as woman, wife, mother, and a person of fiery faith, and how it has brought her here, to looking death in the face. She had done it before, looked into that face of doom, in different settings.
She came to New England as a Puritan reformer, eager for a more pure religious life, both individually and communally. Instead, she found repression.
Suffering and death came not only from church authority, but from the rage of natives who had been assaulted and massacred by the whites in their own land. When a close friend, Anne Hutchinson, and her family was massacred, Mary Dyer was very near driven mad with grief and horror. She returned to England, alone, to seek some kind of spiritual and inward relief.
Seeking. She soon found herself among Seekers. Becoming a Quaker, she feels a call to return to Boston, bloody persecuting Boston. When her ship lands in its harbor, she is seized and taken from ship to an enclosed dungeon. Her husband retrieves her, but at the cost of a pledge that she will not return.
It is a pledge she cannot keep. She lingers with her husband and children, savoring the time together. But still, she must return.
But the journey is not all about religious repression, or doctrinal disputes. Inwardly, Mary struggles to come to terms with the loss of one of her children, one stillborn and branded — not by her, but by them– as a monster, a sign of intercourse with Satan. Mary had named her Joy. And in the closing moments of that fateful morning, Mary must come to terms with that life, and death, not only for when it happened, but also for herself, and for that day, and forever.
Although Jeanmarie was not in costume, and there was no set, the others in the room and I sat transfixed, as if it was all there, unfolding right before us, bringing us with her. When she finished, the long standing ovation seemed a fully deserved, and yet wholly inadequate response.
Is “The Joy” coming to your Meeting, your community? You are graced.