Puns, witty repartee, double entendres, verbal wordplay out of Abbott and Costello, sight gags and slapstick all abound in playwright Talene Monahon’s zany, edgy and accomplished historical comedy, JANE ANGER or The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard. During a breezy 90 minutes, four offbeat characters cavort in a room; laughter is plentiful.
The Plague rages through 1606 London. Bodies are carted away, X’s are painted on the dwellings of those who succumbed and social distancing is practiced as measured by the length of a pony. Of course, much of the play’s humor plays off the parallels to the contemporary pandemic. Quarantining in his apartment is the creatively blocked William Shakespeare. He is attended to by his loquacious wannabe actor servant, Francis, who claims to have just turned 16 but is clearly older.
Before I was a Cunning Woman, I was a whore, and before I was a whore, I was a weaver’s assistant, and before I was an assistant weaver, I was a little girl with pock marks and a dead rat for a dolly. Oh, I cherished that dead rat. I named it Juliet–but that was before it got popular, and everyone was naming their dolls and daughters and dead rats Juliet.
So, explains Shakespeare’s former bedmate and inspiration for The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Jane Anger, before she makes her entrance into his apartment. They reach a bargain; she will help him with his sexual urges so he can write King Lear, and he will assist her in getting her women’s issues pamphlet published, since at the time women were precluded from being writers. Complications ensue when Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway shows up after their having been apart for seven years. Ms. Monahon’s clever premise and zesty characters are realized by the game cast.
Wearing a ruffled collar and a period suit, the bearded and lithe Michael Urie is absolutely hilarious as Shakespeare. With his grand voice, histrionic gestures and familiar mannerisms, Mr. Urie here demonstrates again why he is one of the most renowned comedic stage actors today. This is another of his delightful idiosyncratic characterizations.
Swaggering about, jousting with a rapier and bellowing pronouncements with aplomb, is the formidable Amelia Workman as Jane Anger. Through her vocal dexterity, athletic physicality and charismatic presence, Ms. Workman commands the stage.
As a foil equal to Urie’s Shakespeare is the impish and wiry Ryan Spahn’s Francis. Mr. Spahn employs a lower-class English accent for aspirational, sensual and likeable effect. As the wide-eyed Anne Hathaway, author Monahon is radiant, demure and highly appealing.
Director Jess Chayes masterminds these glittering performances in tandem with her fast-paced and precise physical staging, mining every bit of comedy that’s possible. Scenic designer Joey Mendoza’s thatched-walled set and vintage furnishings are perfection. A stately window with glass shutters gets a lot of mileage as a chamber pot is emptied and objects are thrown from it. The lighting design by Nic Vincent artfully switches from predominantly subtle to eerie when rendering dramatic sequences. Composer Lindsay Jones’ rousing recorded classical music score and various offstage voices are experienced via his balanced sound design. Andrea Hood’s gorgeous costume design impeccably visualizes each character with distinction.
Jane Anger is high caliber, mirthful and intelligent entertainment.
Jane Anger (through March 26, 2022)
Jennifer Campos Productions
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.JaneAngerPlay.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission