This 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