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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Women of Will
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Massachusetts

Women of Will
Tina Packer
Women of Will, now at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, and returning in late August, combines performance, analysis, exploration and explication as Tina Packer delves beneath the surface with her perceptions of women within William Shakespeare's plays. Packer, founder and prime mover of her company since the 1970s, is a force; to interface with the current production is to meet a blazing, galvanic dramatist, actor and intellectual.

Nigel Gore is Packer's on-stage partner as she animates women from early, mid-range, and late plays. Packer informally and colloquially lectures her Founders' Theatre audience either before or after partial scenes during three hours of in-one's-face presentation. She has grouped Women of Will into five sections including warrior women, virgins, and very smart daughters. Packer, as ever, is caught up in journey and her very presence begs anyone fortunate enough to attend to join her.

I have interviewed Tina Packer on many occasions. Watching, listening and (silently) interacting at a given performance as she and Gore perform approximates, in some ways, that interview process. When a journalist sits with Packer and asks a question, she will immediately refer to passages in Shakespeare and provide a mini-verbal essay to accompany the allusion to text. As Women of Will evolves, that happens—sometimes in reverse order. Eric Tucker, directing the performance, must be pivotal. After all, he is providing guidance to a woman of strength and vision who knows what she wants.

Thus, it does not come as a shock that she introduces The Taming of the Shrew, performs a portion in different modes or voices, and then speaks about the process. She is most adept at fusing her being with that of a character (Kate, in this instance). You might wonder if the technique works when the actress, who has lived for more than seven decades, embodies Juliet, who is fourteen. Is this effective? You betcha.

She has chosen to portray characters in chronological order as Shakespeare wrote his plays. Hence, the first portion of the program moves from The Taming of the Shrew and into the Henry history plays before concluding with Romeo and Juliet.

After intermission, she and Gore, who, by the way, is excellent, return with a most creative bit as Rosalind and Orlando in As You Like It, juxtaposed (her word) with difficult moments between Desdemona and Othello in Othello. This serves as segue to Macbeth—Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. A scene from lesser known Pericles affords Nigel Gore the opportunity to shine as an actor—and he seizes upon it. The show concludes with a brief blessing drawn from Henry VIII.

Packer treats theatergoers as if all are colleagues, friends, students and fellow lovers of the arts. Never shy and ever poised, she speaks with the group as if these hundreds of people are in her living room. What a great and welcome feeling! Having directed much of Shakespeare's canon, acted in many of his plays, her familiarity with the man is stunning. It is as if she knows him well and that knowledge includes a multi-sided look at the literary giant. Toss in hefty doses of Packer scrutiny and her articulation is awe-inspiring.

As if this were not enough, after taking a "break" to direct another play, The Taster by Joan Ackermann in the Founders' Theatre, Packer will return for three days at the end of August with a marathon five-part version of Women of Will.

If you, too, might be intrigued with "shrews or virgins on the pedestal" or with women "dying to tell the truth and living underground," get thee to Founders' Theatre, go.

The American premiere of Women of Will continues at Shakespeare & Company's Founders' Theatre through July 24th. The world premiere of Women of Will: The Complete Journey will occur August 25th-27th at the Bernstein Studio 3 in Lenox, Massachusetts. For further information, call (413) 637-3353 or visit www.Shakespeare.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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