New York | 1h 25m | Already closed

Bull in a China Shop

From 9 critic and 71 member reviews
Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing

About the show

Lincoln Center Theater presents a history-inspired comedy about Mary Woolley, the early 20th-century president of Mount Holyoke College, and her long-time partner, Jeannette Marks. More…

Galloping through 40 years of history at the New England women's school, 'Bull in a China Shop' follows the pair as they reform and revolutionize women's education at the height of the suffrage movement. As evolving ambitions and desires strain the couple's relationship, this fast-paced comedy explores how we change the world, how the world changes us, and how we try to grow old together.

1h 25m | Already closed | Claire Tow Theater (Upper W Side)

The New York Times

"A pugnacious, tender and gloriously funny new play...Inspired by letters between the real Mary Woolley and Jeannette Marks...'Bull in a China Shop' blows every last speck of dust off these two women and their compadres. Onstage in Lee Sunday Evans’s warm, lucid, handsomely designed production, they are radiant with life...The company of five is impeccable. Ms. Turner’s fusion of the historical and the contemporary doesn’t always result in alchemy, but nearly." Full Review

Time Out New York

"With a light hand and welcome irreverence, Turner neatly dispenses with two hoary shibboleths: that history is perforce dry, and feminists unfunny...Turner limns the power issues that can persist, heteronormatively, in a relationship of presumed equals...Not only does Turner prove she has the requisite touch, the cast delivers fine performances all around: They do the sisterhood proud." Full Review


"Turner’s is a new voice and one worth paying attention to, even if this play has the didacticism and crudeness that betrays a writer still finding her voice...There’s a ratatat quality to the choppy scenes that undermines the story, as does a subplot involving a student with a crush. Still, I never lost interest in either of these uncelebrated (at least until now) women." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Their exchanges about love and commitment, about courage and challenge, are constant if a tad pedantic...There are two riveting speeches...The first is capriciously funny; the second brought me to tears...While not a perfect play, it has several remarkable performances, two searing soliloquies, and some true dialogue...This play is not for everyone. But, if you are up for 'an odd little evening' with a piquant take on just how complicated it was to suggest women might be whole humans—go." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"Mary Woolley led such an interesting life that it is hard to imagine that it could be turned into a boring play, but playwright Bryna Turner has managed just that...What Turner has written came across to me as scattered chapters from a Cliffs Notes summary of a biography. There was very little enlightenment and not much emotional involvement...As I experienced the play, it shed little heat or light. I must confess that I had to fight nodding off a few times." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"It's all fascinating stuff. But it's also too much. 'Bull in a China Shop' might have worked better if, instead of trying to squeeze the full arc of Woolley's life into 90 minutes, Turner had focused on a particular moment in Woolley's life that revealed the essence of who this remarkable woman was...But don't let my quibbles put you off from seeing 'Bull in a China Shop.' Stories that showcase the lives of women, especially gay women, still rarely get told onstage." Full Review


“Ultimately, the play makes for an intriguing 90 minutes, and it introduces a voice that will no doubt go on to impress even further. But ‘Bull in a China Shop,’ vibrantly directed by Lee Sunday Evans, is crucially lacking in forward motion and character development. As a result, it never rises above feeling like a piece of fan fiction…We walk out yearning for a greater understanding of what made these two powerful, pioneering women tick." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“Turner and her director, Lee Sunday Evans, do sketch the outlines of a fascinating and important bit of pre-suffrage history...Whenever they drill down, though, ‘Bull in a China Shop’ strains to find and maintain its footing…For their parts, Graham and Qian are troupers, trying to make flesh-and-blood figures from lines and situations that aren't much interested in such things…The other actresses...keep switching between performance styles to find one that works, but none ever does.” Full Review

Village Voice

“Although Turner informs us that these women led surprising, exciting lives, we rarely glimpse these adventures. Instead, we're treated to lengthy monologues and repetitive dialogues parsing events that have already happened. A plot like this might still be theatrically compelling with a believable romance at its center, but onstage, it's tough to buy the idea that Graham and Qian share more than a halfhearted interest in each other's lives.” Full Review

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you like shows written by women for women staring women, and/or you like forgotten history

Don't see it if you want something traditional

Romantic, Resonant, Great writing, Funny, Thought-provoking

See it if a smart & gutsy feminist history play, bruising & eloquent on love and politics. Wears its big heart on its impeccably-costumed sleeve.

Don't see it if don't go expecting kitchen sink naturalism. It's beautifully grounded, but presented in a way that's powerfully theatrical.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You want to see a play that about a couple's life together fighting for woman's equality by challenging the norms of their time.

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with profanity.

Clever, Funny, Well-written, Great performances, Relevant

See it if you want to see a tremendously good female-fueled show

Don't see it if you prefer your history plays stuffy

Relevant, Educational, Smart, Absorbing

See it if You appreciate women's history Enjoy flawed characters

Don't see it if You are homophobic

Also Strong performance by lead actresses - the author endeavors to tell th... Read more Read less

Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Refreshing, Romantic

See it if you are interested in learning about a pair of women whose names you've likely never heard.

Don't see it if are easily offended by profanity, lesbians, anachronisms or light staging.

Disappointing, Clever, Great acting

See it if Want to know about powerful women in American History.

Don't see it if Want interesting dialogue rather than monologues.

Also The acting was outstanding.The premise was interesting but I never man... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Funny, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you enjoy plays about history. Or if you want a lesbian couple being shown just living their lives, with normal conflicts and conversation!

Don't see it if you don't like homosexuality. Or women's rights. Or revolution.

Great acting, Intelligent, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you are interested in feminist thought from the past century

Don't see it if you want to watch events occur. The show has a way of taking place around events that are discussed and analyzed in the show.

Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Great acting

See it if At first a show about 2 women, their relationship and the women's movement. Their relationship changes due to the women's movement.Clever!

Don't see it if You like a predictable show. These women change toward each other and sometimes sad to watch.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Enlightening

See it if you like straight historical plays with anachronistic language, feminist themes and stellar performances.

Don't see it if you're offended by the "f" word. I myself found its liberal use here bracing and pretty darn funny.

Also Educational look at two real women who were at the forefront of femini... Read more Read less

Delightful, Cliched, Disappointing, Relevant, Banal

See it if the story of the founding of a women's college excites you and you're okay with this trend of anachronistic historical plays.

Don't see it if the inner workings of academia move at too glacial a pace for you to find cathartic when change [does] occur.

Also Props for the very memorable speech about love in this play!

Thought-provoking, Resonant, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you are interested in women's education formation or lesbian issues. You like historical pieces. You like thought provoking plots.

Don't see it if You don't like women or lesbians. You don't like linear plays. You don't like sparse sets.

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Fluffy

See it if You want to learn about a bad-ass LGBTQ feminist who changed the higher ed culture at an all-female institution

Don't see it if you don't like contemporary language with historical context

Intelligent, Relevant, Quirky

See it if You are interested in historical issues concerning the women's movement at the turn-of-the-century.

Don't see it if If you prefer light musicals and simple dramas.

Indulgent, Intelligent, Refreshing, Slow, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see women talking about becoming empowered and fighting for their right to vote, etc.

Don't see it if You dislike seeing a lesbian relationship and empowered women

Great acting, Quirky, Relevant

See it if You appreciate a fresh spin on women's issues and have no issues with colorblind casting.

Don't see it if You don't like lesbians. You don't like cursing. You are confused by mixed references that seem incongruous in the time period.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you like historical plays this one the women's movement. Creative staging using minimum props. Great way to start a small production

Don't see it if if you want more from your production. Greater depth in the characters. But Its Lincoln Center!

Ambitious, Relevant, Refreshing, Great acting, Funny

See it if you want to see an unusual topic covered

Don't see it if you expect more historical detail on the topic

Banal, Disappointing, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Romantic

See it if you don't mind sitting through a mediocre play to see some great performances, are interested in historical lesbian relationships

Don't see it if Good writing and character development matter to you, you need flashy sets/costumes to be entertained, mind frequent cursing, hate history

Also Stellar performances here however I found the writing to be very stilt... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Funny, Relevant, Anachronistic, Ambitious

See it if you like historical drama w/ contemporary language & diverse casting; biographical stories about women's rights; lesbian romance in academia

Don't see it if you are looking for fully developed plays (the scope is ambitious but at times confusing & lacking nuance); you don't mind spare set design

Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing, Indulgent, Profound

See it if Endi Graham matches the charisma one would expect from Woolsey; humor sprinkled through play is a relief

Don't see it if play does not hold up to the minimalist staging; one memory scene is not obvious at first and pushed the play off the rails for a moment

Thought-provoking, Slow, Relevant

See it if you like slower paced dramas

Don't see it if you don't like stories about relationship drama

Also It was enjoyable overall with good acting, but the characters are not ... Read more Read less

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Great acting

See it if You are interested in the history of the women's movement and two ground breakers -- pres. of Mt. Holyoke and her companion. Well acted.

Don't see it if You want light entertainment. Also if the frequent use of "fuck" by an educated upperclass woman in the early 20th century bothers you.

Entertaining, Quirky, Slow, Relevant, Disappointing

See it if you want to cap of women's history month with an intimate historical play that weaves modern subversive language & energy with suffrage mvmn

Don't see it if You need the acting, direction, dialogue to be universally great. It is, largely, quite good, albeit uneven.

Cast & Creatives (12)