Here is a play with an interesting premise: what would Shakespeare’s female characters say if they had the chance to address their playwright? Would they be unhappy with the treatment—dead, mad, married off—that they get through the bard’s work?
An interesting piece of speculative theatre that is fresh enough to help us think about women in Shakespeare’s plays in a new light.
This is potentially a hard premise to live up to, but by and large Juno Evans and the Z Theatre Company pull it off. There’s some good stuff in here, even if it lacks polish in places. We are confronted with two versions of Shakespeare coinciding on Shakespeare’s birth/deathday, one despondent about the failings of his plays and with an extra four hundred or so years of experience on his younger self, who is still alive, still writing plays, and much more puffed up with importance. It’s not really clear where we are (in some kind of limbo?) or how, but it’s used as a fun gimmick pretty effectively.
We hear from Juliette, Lady MacBeth, Katherine, and Ophelia, all of whom have something to say to their creator. Shakespeare feels like he’s failed them, and as we go through the list, that certainly seems to be the case. The most complex case is Katherine, whose appearance in The Taming of the Shrew both opened up the largest platform for female power and intelligence, and most categorically shut it down. Katherine’s fate, it seems, was not only to be an independent woman, but to have that taken away from her, and she is presented here as a wife who suffers domestic abuse. Seeing her and the others discuss both his failings and theirs with Shakespeare is a great piece of wish-fulfilment.
To treat the fate of these characters as literal is to change the context in which we evaluate them. Seeing Juliette’s death as symbolic and considering how you would really treat a thirteen year old girl that you knew are two different things. This sort of consideration could have been played with more, but overall this shift in context does throw some interesting things to light even if it glosses over the aesthetics of Shakespeare’s original plays. The play itself at times seems a little unsure of its context—the ladies’ entrances, for example, are initially planned but then become a bit random. Also, the whole reason for these confrontations—the fact that Shakespeare made his characters realistic, and now they are real—could have been built into the play’s fabric more, because it’s an important point that only surfaces halfway through. So with a bit of a restructuring and with more polished transitions, it could be even stronger. Nonetheless it is an interesting piece of speculative theatre that is fresh enough to help us think about women in Shakespeare’s plays in a new light.