Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Women of Will

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 3:07 PM

Tickets for Women of Will at TheatreWorks are going fast. As of this writing, every performance except tomorrow's 2 p.m. show is sold out. And you should jump on it.

Never mind what you don’t know about Shakespeare, never mind if the premise — an analysis of the women of Shakespeare — sounds threatening. Tina Packer’s scholarly performance-meets-lecture captures you from the moment she begins, until the moment the show ends.

It goes like this: Packer (read more about her, and Women of Will, here) describes five phases of female portrayals throughout the Bard’s career. The first collective Packer calls the “warrior women,” characters like Margaret of Anjou and Joan of Arc of the Henry VI plays. Like a preternaturally accomplished professor with a razor-sharp sense of humor, Packer outlines the characters and the play, and then performs key scenes to illustrate her points. She is joined onstage by fellow actor Nigel Gore, who plays the male roles.

This format, which is approachable and friendly due to the duo’s informal stage presence, continues through the next four phases, as Shakespeare’s women characters gain depth and maturity, or reflect his outlook on life at the time. I’d go into more detail, but that would spoil the lovely way Packer explains and demonstrates each development. Plus, given Packer and Gore’s vibrancy and skill onstage — whether acting or chatting about the characters — anything written sounds just plain flat.

As the performance continues, it feels less and less presentation-y. When portraying scenes for the tragedies Othello and Macbeth, Packer and Gore go into some unholy overdrive, embodying these possessed and doomed souls with such skill and veracity that the mood of the audience feels palpably tense and entranced. Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness (“Out damn’d spot!”) is barely watchable, it’s so frightening.

But overall, Packer keeps the mood light and the pace steady. So after the chilling Macbeth scenes, the theater slowly brightens back up and they pause while everyone readjusts. Then, they move on to the next point or segment.

It's all done using only a few props and what seems to be fairly simple lighting. Packer and Gore switch from character to character, then back to themselves so easily and naturally, that anything more is unnecessary.

My experience with theater is limited, especially in the realm of Shakespeare, and I was briefly jealous of those who might get more out of the show. But mostly, Women of Will made me look forward to reading more Shakespeare — not as a forced high school student who doesn't get it, but as a captivated, inspired woman.

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