(Michelle Azar stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theater.)

By Jim Roberts

The playwright Rupert Holmes and actress Michelle Azar are sharing universal acclaim for “All Things Equal—The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” a one-woman show that began a national tour in 2022. But if all things are indeed equal, director Laley Lippard deserves much of the credit for its initial success.

“I had an audience member say to me, ‘I felt like I was there. I felt like she was talking to me, and no one else was in the room,’” Lippard said. “That’s exactly what I wanted to give the audience because that’s what it felt like when I read the play. It felt like she was coming back in a time of difficulty and fear to speak directly to me, and that’s special.”

Lippard lives in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Virginia Beach and graduated from the Governor’s School for the Arts, so bringing the show to Norfolk as part of the Virginia Arts Festival is also special.

“It’s a beloved space for me,” she said. “I grew up going to poetry readings and film festivals and plays at Old Dominion and Virginia Stage Company and touring shows. I think the Hampton Roads area is just steeped in art and culture, and the community is so smart and so ready for the kind of stories and artistic practices that live at a national level.

“I can tell you that being a part of the Virginia Arts Festival is such an honor,” she added. “I’m so excited to share in that celebration of art and culture.”

In fact, Lippard landed the “All Things Equal” job because Mark Paladini, the casting director, had seen “Grounded,” a one-woman show she directed at the Virginia Stage Company.

“When Mark and the producer, Scott Stander, were discussing possible folks to direct the piece, he tossed my name in,” she said. “He spoke very highly of that work that he’d seen. I just had a single conversation—talked about my vision—and the producing company went with me. So having been in D.C., having lots of experience with one-woman shows, I think there was a natural fit there.”

Lippard cast Azar as Ginsburg after a series of Zoom auditions during the pandemic. Azar, who has worked steadily on TV shows like “JAG,” “ER” and “Criminal Minds” over the last 25 years, brought the character to life in a matter of weeks and is the only woman to play the role so far. 

“I’m lucky enough to say such a thing!” she said. “It’s very humbling. I’ve been an actor since I was a kid, but to play this role—I’m still very speechless about it. … When I’m not on stage with her, I feel a little empty.”

Lippard said working with Azar is “one of the biggest joys I’ve had in the theater.”

“Michelle is an incredibly intelligent, heartfelt actor,” she said. “It’s rare to have those two things in spades—equally working in ferocious concert. Learning from her and being in conversation with her around the art was a dream.”

Azar has some advice for those who are lucky enough to have scored tickets for the May 2 performance at the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk.

“A lot of information is going to come at you in the play,” she said. “Buckle your seatbelts and hang on. If you find yourself being overly concerned that you didn’t understand one moment … it all kind of comes together in the very end. The intention is really simple and really beautifully revealed.’”

The Virginia Arts Festival will present “All Things Equal—The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2 at the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. At press time, only a few balcony seats were available. For tickets, visit vafest.org.