Playwright/actor/singer/director/choreographer/mother/activist Jeanmarie Simpson spent most of her life in Reno, helping to found the Nevada Shakespeare Company and becoming well-known for her portrayal of antiwar leader Jeannette Rankin. She moved to Los Angeles while her play about Rankin, A Single Woman, was made into a movie. She has lived most recently in Tucson, Ariz., and is now moving to Boulder, Colo. We caught up with her in Reno. She is now doing readings in veteran hospitals from a play she wrote on women in wars, Coming in Hot. She has a website at http://jeanmariesimpson.com.
How did you get from Los Angeles to Tucson?
I got involved in a pretty rough rebound relationship, very brutal domestic violence situation. And I have family in Tucson, so after two years [in Los Angeles] I went there.
And what have you been doing?
I was in L.A., so I made the film, which was a disaster, an absolute disaster.
In terms of production, or—?
Terrible movie. It’s just badly, badly conceived, badly done. The director made a mess of it. It’s really too bad because it’s a fantastic story, and it’s a wonderful, worthy subject, as you know. But it just—the film is a disaster. So, anyway, that took an enormous amount of time. And I did some plays at Theater 40 in Beverly Hills. I did a play called Shakespeare’s Will, which is a one-woman show about Shakespeare’s wife on the day of his funeral. … I went to Tucson, where two of my brothers are. There’s a very active branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom [WILPF], which was the group that organized the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, by the way. There’s a great branch in Tucson that’s famous for their counter-recruitment efforts. The Grannies, the Raging Grannies, are an offshoot of them. This little gaggle of grannies, dress up—very eccentric—in granny costumes and go to recruitment centers and just say they want to sign up rather than their grandchildren because their lives are over and they’re ready to go. … So they refuse to leave until they get arrested. And it’s been going on all over the world, actually, but the Tucson Raging Grannies started it. … We had actually closed the play in Tucson as a benefit for that branch of WILPF, so I already knew everyone, plus I’d been a member of WILPF ever since I discovered Jeanette Rankin and discovered she was one of the founding mothers of it back in 1915. … At the very first meeting that I attended, a woman named Shannon Cain arrived with this book that she was hoping WILPF would support. And it’s called Powder: Writings by Women in the Ranks from Vietnam to Iraq. … She passed some copies around, and I leafed through it, and I just said, ‘This is my next project. This is fantastic; it seems to be a play.’ … She said ‘I’d like to see this become a theater piece,’ and I just said, ‘OK.’ … We premiered last September.
I heard you were doing something at veteran hospitals.
I’m not actually performing. … I read sections [of Coming in Hot]. We’ve gotten universal accolades for the theater piece—“This is excellent, thought-provoking,” blah, blah, blah. It’s not a clear antiwar statement, so the peace community doesn’t want to endorse it. It’s not a clear pro-military—by any means—statement. There’s a lot of tales of sexual abuse, harassment, one attempted rape. …The point is not to be a polemic. The point is not to impose meaning and tell it to people, but to discover meaning together. You know, we’re beyond the point—we’re nine years into this war. And it just keeps going on and on.