The title An Evening With Shakespeare's Women pretty much says it all; what you imagine is almost exactly what you get with Love Street Theatre's new production. While a more apt title might be An Evening With Shakespeare's Women Performed By Seven Excellent Actresses, who can blame them for wanting to keep it short and modest?
Letty Ferrer, Jane Stewart Fuentes, Clara Barton Green, Julie S. Halpern (who also directed the show), Janna Rosencrantz, Rachel Russell, and Donna Stearns are the women in question, making their way through speeches and scenes from seventeen of Shakespeare's plays. While there are, of course, obvious choices (Lady Macbeth from Macbeth and Portia from The Merchant of Venice among them), there are also more adventuresome selections - how often would one expect to hear a Katharine of Aragon speach from Henry VIII in a production like this? Or Volumnia from Coriolanus?
While Halpern does move things quickly - scarcely one scene has ended before another is underway - she never skimps on the dedication she and her cast show Shakespeare's words. The set and costumes, yes, as there are none to speak of, and Beryl Armistead's lighting cues are kept limited. But each of the actresses' characterizations, across the board, are complex and fully realized. The speeches tend to become one-act plays, and the occasional "medley" of scenes (from Richard III or Romeo and Juliet) almost entirely satisfying dramatically.
This is no small achievement. Many New York theatre companies should consider themselves lucky if they happen to get even one of these very talented women in the cast of their next Shakespeare play. If I had to pick one of the performers as my favorite, it would probably be Fuentes, who displays remarkable range and emotional depth in her performances of Hermione from The Winter's Tale, Rumor from Henry IV, Part II and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. By turns sexy and heartbreaking, she goes the furthest distance in the shortest amount of time. Everyone else in the cast, though, has at least one opportunity to shine and usually more, and none are wasted.
If there's one thing missing from the show, it's context. Removing the original contexts of the speeches and scenes without replacing them with something else gives the show a somewhat disjointed feel that may well prove daunting to some. The interpretive work Halpern and company have done is excellent, but the lack of connecting dramatic threads or narration might make the show inaccessible to those with less than encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare.
Otherwise, An Evening With Shakespeare's Women is elegantly polished and presented, simultaneously sweeping and intimate, just like Shakespeare at his best. The motto at the bottom of the program cover simply states the point the women are making: "...it's not that we love men less, but that we love acting more..." When they're acting this well, how can you not love them right back?
Love Street Theatre