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A CurtainUp Review
Women of Will: The Complete Journey

Starting March 19th, Packer and Gore's exploration of the Shakespeare canon will feature a series of Tuesday talkbacks, each with a different moderator. Shakespeare Society member and Curtainup's own Shakespeare expert Deirdre Donovan will moderate the Tuesday May 7th talkback.

If you found Tina Packer's Women of Will: The Overview a spicy Shakespearean feast, her Complete Journey is even tastier.   The five-play series builds and expands upon the more compact Overview drawing from 25 plays and 55 scenes from the comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances, and chronologically highlights Shakespeare's transcendent moments and theatrical tour jetes. Again directed by Eric Tucker, and featuring actor Nigel. Gore, this presentation is a master class that uses women characters as a multi-faceted lens to come to a fuller and more humane understanding of the Bard.

If you decide, as I did, to take The Complete Journey keep in mind that you don't have to see the parts strictly in sequence. In fact, each stands on its own theatrical feet. And, if you can't catch all five shows in a single weekend, not to worry. The production is running at the Gym at Judson (through June 2nd) on alternate weekends. Enough fol-de-rol. What follows are my capsule reviews of the whole shebang.

Part I: “The Warrior Women, from Violence to Negotiation.”
The lights go up on Packer dressed in a frilly pink frock and a cross-dressed Gore in similar petti-coat fashion. They, perform the opening scene from Act 2 of The Comedy of Errors, in which Luciana confronts Adriana with the reality of being a woman in a male-dominated world: “The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls,/ Are their male's subjects and at their controls:/ Men, more divine, the masters of all these,/ Lords of the wide world and wild watery seas,/ Indued with intellectual sense and souls. . . are masters to their females, and their lords: Then let your will attend on their accords.” Packer, with an impish gleam in her eyes, halts the scene at this point and confides to the audience: “The whole problem of the modern world starts there!” Indeed Packer uses the character Luciana to illustrate the typical mind-set of an Elizabethan woman.

No lollygagging, though. Packer forges ahead to the feistier personas of Joan and Margaret from the Henry VI plays and Richard III , Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew, and Lavinia from Titus Andronicus. Each female psyche is unpacked, but not before taking a careful look at their creator, the then up-and-comer Shakespeare.

Part I: Before the phrase "up-and-comer", I think that the word "then" might clarify the term better. So it would read "then up-and-comer." Use your editorial judgment on this!!! Packer underscores that the Man-from-Stratford, who eventually would outshine all his contemporary Elizabethan playwrights, started out as a rather two-note writer on females. She posits that his women were either “harridans” or “sweet-young-things,” and sometimes embodied both (Joan morphed from revered figure to disreputable woman in an Elizabethan wink). The women are portrayed as Shakespeare intended them, with all their warts intact.

Part II: “The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual.”
Sound like nonsense? Not at all. The conventional thinking about sex is rattled with the focus on the passionate women in the canon who raised eyebrows and more. Packer argues that Shakespeare transitioned from writing cardboard-like female characters with his young, headstrong Juiet. She attributes this major shift in Shakespeare's career to his meeting with Emilia Bassano, who many critics speculate was the “Dark Lady” of his Sonnets. Biographical speculation aside, the piece skips on to the middle-aged Beatrice of Much Ado About Nothing , pointing out that she was an ordinary gal with extraordinary wit and will.
The Shakespearean riff continues with parsing the word “nothing” from the play's title, which she stresses has both literary (“noting”) and sexual undercurrents (“no thing” was Elizabethan slang for a woman's privates). Things really heat up when the sultry Cleopatra and her love-smitten Antony are tossedinto the discourse. The two historical figures become “person and symbol” in their namesake play. No doubt these lovers, who naturally speak in hyperboles (“Let Rome in Tiber melt. . .”), superbly embrace the sexual-and-spiritual theme. Finally it's back to youth with the false Cressida, and invites the audience to ponder why it wasn't in the cards for her and Troilus to enjoy a lasting love.

Part III: In the parentheses, the three women's names should be "Ophelia, Desdemona, and Portia" is "Portia," not "Fulvia." My brain was tired. Portia was the woman who swallowed fire, making her tragic figure. Part III: “Living Underground or Dying to Tell the Truth.” Cross-dressed heroines Portia, Viola, and Rosalind have the real theatrical edge here. Packer astutely points out that women tend to fare better overall when they exchange their frocks for trousers. In fact, those women who don't wear “the pants” (Ophelia, Desdemona, and Portia) tell the truth, all right, but don't live long. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are tempered with stunning romantic moments such as Packer and Gore playfully performing Lorenzo and Jessica in the opening scene from Act 5 of The Merchant of Venice (“The moon shines bright. . .”). Mythology and music, poetry and truth. Part III has it all.

Part IV: “Chaos is Come Again, the Lion Eats the Wolf.”
Shakespeare's mature tragedies teem with false dawns. We hear how Coriolanus wins laurels at war but loses his footing in Roman politics and that Macbeth becomes King of Scotland yet is undone by his ambition. King Lear reunites with his beloved Cordelia, only to see her taken prisoner and killed. No happily-ever-after endings here.

Part V: “The Maiden Phoenix: the Daughter Redeems the Father.”
If there's a moral to all this, it comes out in this final piece. Without being heavy-handed or preachy, it shows the audience how young female characters like Marina, Perdita, and the infant Elizabeth, are the souls of healing and hope to their downtrodden and world-weary fathers.

Although the marathon might be too much theater in one weekend for some theatergoers, Bardian devotees like me won't find it too long or too talky. Truth be told, this epic breezed by for me and the apparently enthralled audience. Packer, assisted by the superb Gore, have whipped up a terrific Shakespearean souffle that is part lecture, part performance, and altogether scrumptious.

Women of Will: The Complete Journey
Created by Tina Packer. Based on the plays of William Shakespeare
Directed by Eric Tucker
Cast: Tina Packer, Nigel Gore.
Sets & Costumes: Valerie Bart
Sound: Daniel Kluger
Lighting: Les Dickert
Stage Manager: Katharine Whitney
The Gym at Judson, at 243 Thompson Street @ Washington Square South. Tickets: $75. Phone 212/352-3101 or visit
From 4/05/13; opening weekend of April 12, 13, 14; closing 6/02/13.
Part I: Friday @ 8pm. Part II: Saturday @ 2pm. Part III. Saturday @ 8pm. Part IV: Sunday @ 2pm. Part V: Sunday @ 7pm. The Overview is performed Tuesdays @ 7pm, Wednesday through Fridays @ 8pm. Weekend marathons of The Complete Journey run on alternate weekends.
Running time: varies (approximately 90 minutes per play)
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on first marathon weekend, April 5th, 6th, 7th, 2013.
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