Jackie Oliveri stars at Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “RBG: One Step at a Time” at Footlights Theatre.  Footlights Theatre

As a theater presenter during the pandemic, Michael J. Tobin has learned to be nimble and efficient. Every weekend is a crapshoot at Footlights Theatre in Falmouth, where he can accommodate no more than 25 people and often draws far fewer, and where he presents simple, no-frills plays three nights a week, usually with a single actor on stage.

This weekend, he opens an original biographical drama about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “RBG: One Step at a Time.” Tobin wrote the script, based on Ginsburg’s writings and own words, in the days following her death in September. Longtime local actor Jackie Oliveri plays the justice. It tells the story of Ginsburg’s legal journey through snippets and excerpts of essays, opinions, interviews and letters since her teenage years. The title comes from a 2018 quote: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

Tobin wrote the script in tribute to Ginsburg, and because he wrote it, he doesn’t owe royalties. Every penny saved buys him another day in his fight against the pandemic. “I don’t know if I will sell out at 25 seats or if I will get 6 people or nobody,” he said. “To keep the bills paid and the doors open, I have to do as much as I can.”

He invites people in to see his theater in advance, if they are concerned about the set-up, safety and seating arrangements. “People ask me, ‘Why do you keep doing this? Why not just close and reopen again later?’ There is the big question, right? I can’t do that. I still have to pay rent, and I can do this safely.”

Oliveri said she was both honored and scared taking on the role of “this fearless, brilliant, iconic and remarkable woman. Doing so leaves me breathless. How does one portray this woman who has inspired so many — and do her the justice that she deserves? The one thing that gives me courage in taking her on is that I will be delivering her words, and her words are both brilliant and laced with humor and compassion.”

Doing so also is a double-edged sword. Delivering Ginsburg’s words has made Oliveri more aware of Ginsburg’s loss to American society and culture, and the consequences of her death are playing out in real time, she said. “It’s made me feel the loss of her all the more powerfully, because I thought I understood what she had given us, but I didn’t understand half of it until I started to say her words. Now I understand what we have lost, and it scares the bejesus out of me.”

To make her portrayal more dramatic, Oliveri has the advantage of physical resemblance to Ginsburg with the same height and build. Along with costume, hair and makeup, the resemblance is uncanny. “Michael can make me took like her, and maybe that will take over in people’s minds,” she said. She won’t sound like Ginsburg and isn’t trying to. “There is no way I am going to get her voice without distracting people. When you try too hard to get someone’s voice, you risk losing people. So I am just going to try to get the nature of her voice and the brilliance of what she said.”

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