McDonnell ‘Acts’ Well But Lacks Substance

by Emily Yellman
Contributing Writer

Nerdy as it sounds, I usually look forward to finding out who is going to be the Kenan lecturer each year. Transylvania, being a fairly prestigious school, usually pulls out some pretty big names and really good speakers – the past list is quite impressive – which is why I was intrigued to see that Mary McDonnell was coming to speak for the Kenan Lecture series. I was not completely sure what she was going to talk about, but I had faith that Transy had picked someone wisely, and I wanted to hear what she had to say.

I’ve never seen “Battlestar Galactica,” or many of her other roles for that matter, so I showed up without the star-struck fan shield that a lot of people in the audience had. I quickly realized this was not a good thing because I probably would have enjoyed her speech a lot more had I known who she was.

I thought she was shallow and superficial, and her speech lacked any real substance. She spoke about the roles she had played in various productions and how she went about performing each role. But her speech was interspersed with stereotypical jokes and information that didn’t seem relevant, and I was unable to take away any solid message about females in power (which is what she claimed her lecture was about). It was not that she was a bad speaker, but I thought that the whole thing was much more of a performance that lacked any depth than it was a valuable lecture. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very possible to put on a performance with substance and intellect, but her “show” didn’t have any for me.

What bothered me the most was that she fed so intensely into gender stereotypes in the way she talked, the things she said and almost all of her body language. I walked away feeling the only thing I had gotten from the speech was that lipstick and a nice wardrobe are essentials to being a good female. I was blown away when she started talking about how distressed she was to play one production role that entailed anger and power, and how she couldn’t eat or sleep for days, but at least she looked good because she got thin. I’m sure there are plenty of people who could have adequately given a lecture on women in power and the equality of the sexes that wasn’t showy, shallow or hypocritical.

I’m sure she’s a great actress, and I’m sure that, had I been as star-struck as most people were then, maybe I wouldn’t be so critical. But when you have something as notable as the Kenan Lecture series that has brought people like Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, then I think I should rightfully expect a quality speech. She was a good speaker in that she gave a good performance. However, McDonnell was hardly Kenan Lecture material.

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