ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Women of Will
Packer and her on stage colleague Nigel Gore present a mindful mosaic of Shakespeare's grande dames, harridans, and vital young women in search of their more mature selves. The script interweaves famous set pieces with astute commentary on Shakespeare's life and how his female creations uncannily charted his growth as a playwright.
Women of Will has been evolving for 15 years. It began its life at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts . Try outs while she was still Artistic Director included The Overview in the summer of 2010 and The Complete Journey in the summer of 2011. Encouraged by favorable notices, the project took on even sturdier stage legs with mountings in Boston and in its entirety at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Since then, it has traveled to the Prague Shakespeare Festival in Prague, Czech Republic. And through it all Packer kept fine tuning the piece before its current New York premiere at the Gym at Judson.
Shaking off their Elizabethan dust, Shakespeare's female personages look and sound mighty fresh in Women of Will. And there's a reason why. The British born Packer who is making her New York debut is a seasoned classical actor who has performed and worked with the likes of Ian McKellan, John Barton, B. H. Barry, John Broome, and Trish Arnold. Without a trace of self-consciousness, she dives in with gusto to play the 15 year-old Juliet even though it's a bit bit of a stretch for her to convincingly embody the Bard's younger women who include Katharine (she of the feisty tongue and shrewish nature), the witty Rosalind, and the life-giving Marina. She plumbs to even greater depths when portraying the French soldier Joan, the she-wolf Margaret, and the ambitious Lady Macbeth.
Packer, who confesses to having a long-time affinity with Shakespeare's historical women, is clearly at her best with the icons of yesteryear. She is especially on the mark as the sinister Margaret of the Henry 6 plays, re-enacting that horrific moment when the queen mockingly places a paper crown on York's head, humiliating and condemning him to death by beheading. Gore, who plays the male characters and at first seems a mere foil suddenly comes alive here as York, fiercely confronting Margaret with her inhumanity: "O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide." Indeed it doesn't get any crueler than this in Shakespeare's canon, and Packer nails it with panache.
With the audience seated around the stage on three sides there's a welcome intimacy to this production,. To preserve its simplicity, Valerie Therese Bart has kept set and costume design spare. An elegant oriental rug is spread across the performing space and plush cushions mark the edges of the stage. Packer and Gore wear comfortable-looking clothes and the occasional flowing robes for royal figures. While most of the action occurs in the main performing space, Bart has created a makeshift balcony for the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Les Dicker provides clean lighting for the lectures and more shaded tones for the cameo performances that punctuate the presentation. Daniel Kluger's sound design enhances the mood and atmosphere of each scene without overshadowing the actors' mellifluous voices. Under Eric Tucker's direction the combined efforts of everyone add up to a very natural overall effect. It's as if the audience is sitting around an ancient campfire, hanging on each word of the storyteller.
I could point to some faults but they're mere quibbles in this feast. Suffice it to say, that some of the commentary could be trimmed a whiff, with perhaps one of the monologues for the younger women cut for a more streamlined effect.
Anyone who has ever been to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox knows that Packer and her colleagues have created a wonderful place for presenting new plays as well as fresh interpretations of Shakespeare's plays Just last summer Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis starred as Prospera in a retooled of The Tempest. Having turned the baton over to her long-time colleague Tony Simotes, Packer is now breaking new dramatic ground for herself as an actor-playwright. And she manages to pull it off with elan, balancing performance with vital commentary on the trajectory of the Bard's career.
This two and a half hour Women of Will is a prelude to its more expansive five-part version later this season. Shakespeare lovers won't want to miss this marathon.
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show