Not Such Stuff

notsuchstuffThis world premiere collection of monologs derive from eight female Shakespearian characters speaking from their hearts, describing aspects of their lives with a modern feminist sensibility.  Deconstructing the traditional interpretations of some of the most fiercely fascinating female characters of all time, the playwright is able to “have at it” and the characters finally have their say.  And oh, what tales they have to weave.

Director and founder of Venus Theater, Deborah Randall sets the intriguing tone by having the characters in various positions whispering on stage while the audience is still entering the small storefront “shack,” getting familiar with the space and the simple multilayered set, designed by Randall.  Even during the director’s brief opening lines of welcome, the whispering continues with increasing volume only to stop abruptly with a striking and sudden light cue focusing on the heavyweight champion of female characters, Lady Macbeth, played by Chemeeka Joi Bradley who intones “I did Not commit suicide,”  and then proceeds to tell her story.  It’s all quite impressive.

In the hands of Canadian playwright chris wind, whole new dimensions are revealed about characters we thought were as familiar as the back of our hands thus opening worlds of possibilities.  Some options are more eagerly welcomed than others, yet all are effectively delivered by the women portraying them.  Randall has found a goldmine of actresses in this northern beltway territory and she puts them through their paces with excellent command of their physicality, focus and intensity in relaying their characters.  One by one, they traipse into the spotlight, talk intently into the audience, gaze at each other, or ignore the outer realm completely to whirl in their own inner turmoil.

Angela McLaughlin as the rather hot and sex-starved Juliet gets the castle a’ rocking with a waif mixed with baby doll demeanor.  Romeo never had a chance with this babe on the loose wondering loudly where the (blank) is her blasted Romeo??!  As Juliet, McLaughlin slithers and fawns across the stage with pubescent delight in her own newfound sexuality, bringing “climax” back to basics.    Heather Whitpan’s Kate dissects the definition of “shrew” with cutting clarity and boisterous bolts of energy.  Striding across the stage with purpose and drive, she has a bearing that would look more comfortable perched on a stallion with sword and shield than cowering in fear of her lord and master.  Surely, something horrific must have happened to break this strong and proud spirit, and the playwright is more than happy to fill in the “what if” between the scenes of she who could not been tamed.  Carol V. Wilson as Portia with a sultry Angelina Jolie visage and the voice of Kathleen Turner offers scathing reactions about her father’s equating her with commerce, while Lisa Hill-Corley as Marina from Pericles recounts horrific abuse with blank hollow eyes of never ending depravity.

“Am I not worthy?”  asks one character in a self-demeaning stance.  “Where is her mother,” asks another in a constant refrain.  “Why has she no mother?”

Randall makes special effort to create a sense of connection among the women.  They whisper between monologs sometimes to each other or to themselves in hushed tones spouting lines from a treasure trove of Shakespeare’s works.  They comfort each other, empathize and mirror each other in sisterly support.  One of the characters looks studiously through the pages of a handsomely bound Shakespearean text for solace, justification, and vindication, only to be dashed into the reality of her own story.  It’s a fascinating concept that generally works well, where even the title counterpoints the Tempest’s – “We are such stuff that dreams are made of…” .  chris wind explores the depths of the characters and reveals their interior journeys with poetic text that ripples along the edges of cognition and madness. Still, she has a tendency to lean towards the dark side– surely in her mind’s eye, at least one of the bard’s damsels must have cracked a smile or two instead of being scarred beyond recognition.

Producing a world premiere is quite an accomplishment for this reconstituted Venus Theatre Company whose mission is to “set flight to the voices of women.”  Next in line is a madcap romp, Homokay’s Medea, a contemporary take on the classic tale where a woman exacts revenge on her husband for throwing her over for a younger woman.  In Randall’s capable hands, it’s a safe bet that hilarity will ensue, enough to warrant a Mapquest trip to the Play Shack in historic downtown Laurel.  Stay tuned.

Not Such Stuff
Written by chris wind
Directed by Deborah Randall
Produced by Venus Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson

Running Time: 1:10 hour with no intermission

When: Thru March 29. Thurs – Sat at 8 pm, Sun matinees at 3 pm.

Where: Venus Theatre Play Shack , 21 C Street, Laurel,  Maryland

Tickets:– $20

Call: 866 811-4111 or buy.

Comments

  1. The most dynamic cast star of Not Such Stuff is missing from the picture. An updated picture needs to be posted.

    BTW: She should have had more stage/spot light time.

    Thank you,

  2. Just wanted to take a sec to thank Debbie for coming out to the Shack and reviewing this. We’ve been at that location for three years and producing works in DC and across the eastern seaboard for the 15 years prior. It’s been a long journey.

    Tim and Lorraine have always been so respectful to the work at Venus, even under florescent lights, even with actors on rollerskates being silly in a show for kids. They are the rare and beautiful exception to what can be a pretty cruel professional existence.

    Congratulations on this new and beautiful site!

    And please disregard any comments of ignorance and arrogance that may arise. To address Dr. Boyd directly here: this is an ensemble piece, so there are no “stars”. Perhaps you were looking for the community theatre around the corner? And, as I have told MANY people over the years who seem to know how to do my job better than me, “let me know when your world premiere opens that gives 11 female theatre professionals opportunities not found ANYWHERE else, and I’ll buy a FULL PRICED ticket and sit front and center. Until then…”

    As our Ophelia says, “it seems all cowards and chamelions receive their color from what is without – not within”. Ignorance abounds and self-proclaimed armchair quarterbacks and critics seated in arrogance try to insinuate. But, it’s rare to find anything like “DC Theatre Scene”. Truly fueled by lovers of theatre who have professional resumes and want to see theatre thrive in the DC area. As my friend Carolyn Gage sometimes says, “you guys deserve special property in heaven.”

    THANK YOU for your coverage, your clarity, and your professionalism. It is quickly becoming my artistic oxygen. And, I have this feeling I’m not alone.

    BRAVA! You have no idea what it means to receive this feedback. New press releases have been sent and we press on for publication of this important work. THANKS FOR INK!!!

    Thank you thank you thank you!
    XOdb.

  3. I’ll start by saying it sounds like an interesting piece of work. I was paging through the website hoping to find some good theater this weekend and thought that maybe this show would be an option. However, I generally read the comments before I read the article. After reading both “reviews” I have thoughts of my own that I’d like to share based on the commentary of both of the previous commenters:

    Yes, the article makes it clear that this show is a heavy ensemble piece; the work of 8 women, however only 5 of those 8 are represented in the photo. I think the point that Dr. Boyd was attempting to convey is that if that’s true, then where are the other 3 women in this photo? Why wasn’t a photo that presents the entire ensemble used? I think it’s a fair assessment. Honestly speaking, the woman lying on the floor appears to be the center of attention and would therefore lead me to believe, off visual image alone, that it’s all about her. The girl on the platform looks like she didn’t mean to be caught in the photo at all!

    deb – in your commentary you’ve taken a VERY strong approach to Dr. Boyd’s comments. I believe the feature of allowing comments is attached to this site so that people can say the things that they think. That shouldn’t be at the risk of being bashed for their honest opinions. Why are you so angry? He has a right to his opinion, and again, I think it’s a fair assessment. Clearly he’s seen the show so maybe he should not have used the word “star,” but maybe the cast member(s) not depicted in the photo was/is his star. You ought not be so tightly wrapped. It just makes you look bad. It’s clear that you are tied to the theater in a personal way, but if this is how you guys respond to criticism, you might want to rethink this business all together. You are never going to be able to please everyone, but to respond in such an aggressive manner is just unattractive, and honestly sounds like you are more ignorant and arrogant than you think he is. And this sort of language to your paying patrons…not good.

    Much success to the cast, it sounds like all of you ladies are doing great work over there!

  4. Didn’t mean to sound ignorant or arrogant. Certainly believe in freedom of speech. For myself as well as everyone else. db.

  5. I think Dr. Boyd was speaking of Lady Macbeth when he was asking for more from his “star”.
    Both the actress and character are very compelling, and leave the audience wanting more. It’s a good thing.

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