Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Talene Monahon authored Jane Anger and also appears as Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, in the current production of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The play, written during Monahon's COVID-induced isolation, looks back to 1606, when an outbreak of bubonic plague trapped Shakespeare (Michael Urie) in an upstairs room in London, coping with lack of inspiration and sharing limited space with a dotty servant and aspiring actor named Francis (Ryan Spahn). (History, and the play, show that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during this time; incidentally, that play is next on the company's schedule, with Patrick Page in the title role.)
But of course, this is Jane's story and she, as portrayed by Amelia Workman, seizes attention whenever she appears. She is a "cunning woman," familiar with healing and midwifery and, as it happens, also with writing. Knowing she was brilliantly talented since childhood, Jane has endured scorn and sometimes violence from men who have wanted to shut her up. Now she has written a treatise on the wrongs men do to women, but can't get it published without the approval of a famous man–so she tracks down Will, with whom she had a previous relationship. (It's all in the sonnets.)
Anne, meanwhile, is sick of being the abandoned wife back in Stratford-upon-Avon, looking after the children while her husband is bathing in adulation in London. While her displeasure with male behavior is different from Jane's, they discover that they have some interests in common.
Under the direction of Jess Chayes, Urie is a delight as a Shakespeare who craves adoration while cheerfully stealing ideas from his contemporaries. Spahn wrings abundant humor out of a character who worships the playwright even more than he worships theater itself. The problem is that, while the parts of the production are entertaining, they don't work together as a whole.
Jane Anger runs through January 8, 2023, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 Seventh St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By Talene Monahon