June 10, 2010 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Women of Will, at Shakespeare and Co. is aptly referred to as WOW!!!! by those present at one of the performances. On a bare stage containing one chair and a couple of little black boxes, without costume changes except for one huge red cape and with a couple of hand props, two skilled actors, Tina Packer and Nigel Gore, in less than three hours bring alive in daring performances, nine of Shakespeare’s women, each a woman of will, (depending on the amount and kind of “will” that she could assert given the period in which Shakespeare wrote the play in which she appears.)
During the first act scenes are from early plays such as The Shrew and the marvelously fighting women in the historical plays of the War of the Roses—Margaret who Ms. Packer confesses is one of her favorite characters and Elizabeth who battled the men for her kin to rule England. The act ends with one of the loveliest balcony scenes of Juliet, sans balcony…the chair will do, in which Ms. Packer is the most haunting Juliet I have ever seen and one the most aware of what her words really mean.
In the second act, the duo of actors interweave characters and scenes from two plays—and Rosalind and Orlando slip into Desdemona and Othello and then back into the first two in the Forest of Arden, where Ms. Packer as a swaggering Rosalind in male attire and sporting a Nottingham accent brings her will against that of Orlando. This tour de force Scene interplay is hard to describe but mesmerizing to watch.
It is followed by all the Lady Macbeth/Macbeth scenes from the play of that name. Brilliant and terriying. The act then ends with the maturity of Shakespeare (as author) and the characters using woman’s will to being Pericles’ daughter to the salvation of her father in a scene that brings tears to the eyes. (In the full, three night performance thirty seven plays will be included in the five categories presenting women’s changing use of will, and other daughters in the late plays of Shakespeare, the romances, will also appear).
Some how, even in this brief series of selections from the gradually developing of Shakespeare as author, and the changing of attitudes two women, all this weaves into a beautiful evening, each segment woven into the next by Ms. Packer briefly speaking to the audience, cueing us in to where we are going as she and her partner become just actors for a moment, moving a box for the next scene. Needing only two theatrical assists, wonderful lighting and occasional background music or sounds such as a bird call, this evening is theatre, lecture and a lesson how great acting can fill an empty stage. Ms. Packer’s depth of knowledge of the plays, and her deep passion for her subject, combined with her years of theatre experience combine into a unique whole.
As for the two actors, they are a magnificent duo, capable of great variety in roles and delightfully informal with each other in the setting up of scenes and their brief sallies to the audience.
A coda brings the evening formally to a close with the civil wars behind and Cramer blessing the infant Elizabeth I, the Queen for whom Shakespeare wrote so much. And the lovely final touch—the red robe that sometimes donned one of the characters, is rolled into an oblong blanket, the infant being blessed.
The audience at the performance this reviewer attended felt so blessed by the whole stunning evening that after a moment of stunned silence almost as one rose to standing applause.