A lot of people love Romeo and Juliet. Some of these people are women, and many of those women love the play because of the character of Juliet. I acknowledge and accept this. Charlene V. Smith takes this love to another level entirely.
What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! is a one-woman show that combines scenes from Shakespeare’s most famous (and in certain circles, most controversial) play with Smith’s personal musings and the opinions of minor historical actors and scholars. In the program notes, Smith says that she came to her love of Juliet later in life and felt the need to create a piece about Juliet as she (at “ nearing thirty”) would never have a chance to play her on stage.
As a director, a scholar, and a woman, I have many problems with this production, chief among being that fact that Smith, with her slight frame, delicate features, soprano toned speaking voice, and pretty red hair could very much still play Juliet.
She obviously has a very strong opinion about the character, and the acting chops to pull it off, and I would much rather have seen a small cast, 90 minute adaptation of Romeo and Juliet than the clunky, misguided production I did see.
The interjections of Smith’s personal life stories were too infrequent to have a real arc, and the scholarship, while interesting, was both over-represented and under-used. In my press packet I received a helpful “ whose, who” of the actors and scholars mentioned in the play, but the average audience member only had the names projected behind Smith’s head to inform them.
Anna Jameson, Fanny Kemble, Jess Dorynee, Elmer Stoll and others are not recognizable enough figures to easily place; some introduction of the major figures would have been helpful.
I found Smith’s interpretation of Juliet as the purest form of love not only misguided, but juvenile. To regard this lustful teenager as Shakespeare’s strongest female character is not only anti-feminist, but anti-woman. The female actors that Smith cites (with one exception) were performing in the late 19th century, and their interpretations of the role are reflective of the social climate and scholarship of the time. To view Juliet in this way, now that we are firmly in the 21st century, seems wrong-headed.
All this being said, Smith is a powerful performer, and (if you can keep up with the names) her use of 19th century scholarship in real time with the text is a fascinating idea. Some day soon, I hope to see her really play Juliet.
What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! has 4 more performances at The Bedroom – Fort Fringe, 610 L Street NW, Washington, DC.