The accidental activist and the presidential candidate
BY SUSIE CURRIE — While Newt Gingrich was giving his Super Tuesday victory speech in Georgia earlier this month, his half-sister Candace Gingrich-Jones was working late at the Human Rights Campaign in downtown Washington, D.C.
Then she headed home to Hyattsville, where she lives with Rebecca Gingrich-Jones, a playwright she married in a Boston civil ceremony in 2009. The couple met playing rugby for the Washington Furies in 2004.
Rebecca, who earned a master’s degree in playwriting last spring, has adapted Candace’s 1996 memoir, The Accidental Activist. A stage reading at 7 p.m. on March 14 will kick off Busboys & Poets’ new Beltway Drama Series, a monthly event showcasing D.C.-area playwrights.
Though not a full production – “basically, it’s people on stage with music stands,” says Rebecca – the 90-minute story traces the complicated relationship of siblings who are, in many respects, polar opposites. The updated material she added, including Newt’s presidential campaign and the Gingrich-Jones wedding, may only sharpen the distinctions.
“I like to write plays that focus on common humanity. Everyone can relate to family life,” said Rebecca, who received one of this year’s top three playwriting grants from the Maryland State Arts Council.
The main characters, of course, are Candace and Newt (played by Bill Brekke), with four other actors in ensemble roles.
The brother-sister duo have the same mother – and a complex history. When Kathleen Gingrich married her second husband, Richard, in 1946, he adopted the son from her first marriage, 3-year-old Newt. The couple went on to have three daughters.
When Candace, the youngest and a self-described “empty-nest baby,” was born in 1966, her sisters were 16 and 18. Newt, at 23, was a married father himself; his second daughter was born the same year as Candace.
The age difference makes for a relationship she describes as more like uncle-niece than brother-sister. Since they’ve always lived in different states, seeing each other more than a handful of times a year is rare, although that may be slowly changing. Candace says that “Rebecca and Callista are very proactive” about getting together on special occasions.
Newt ascended to the national spotlight in 1994 as the 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. As journalists raced to profile him, the spotlight expanded to include his parents and sisters, who were all living in the Harrisburg area at the time – and who had known of Candace’s sexual identity for years.
“I didn’t call a press conference [to announce my orientation],” she said. But when an AP reporter asked, she didn’t hide it.
Invitations followed. She moved to the D.C. area in 1995 to start work with the Human Rights Campaign, which was on its way to becoming the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group. Her slogan in those early years: “Your brother doesn’t have to be Speaker for your voice to be heard in Congress.”
Now, her voice is being heard in Hyattsville. Going over the script recently, she asked Rebecca, “Will this really be acting? It doesn’t feel like it. I’ve lived it. It’s me.”
The show is from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Howard Zinn Room. Next in the Beltway Drama Series is A Patch of Earth, by Kitty Felde. Set in Bosnia, the full-length reading is scheduled for April 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Organizer John Feffer, who also lives in Hyattsville, hopes the series will be an ongoing one.
“It all depends on turnout and excitement level, “ he said. “There’s no shortage of good material written by local playwrights.”