Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

Women of Will
By: Eugene Paul
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Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in a scene from Women of Will
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

After forty years in the wilderness expounding on Shakespeare, during which she collected a plethora of awards, fellowships, honors as numerous as the overlapping leaves of a coat of mail, Tina Packer has decided to make her New York acting and playwrighting debut, bag and baggage – in the safe heart of the Village’s academe. Well, somewhat safe. Students adore her; academicians are as academicians are, especially in the ocean that is Shakespeare where everyone burnishes an opinion and everyone is more than willing to float it. None more than Ms. Packer. Decades ago, she embarked on a project focused on the women in Shakespeare’s plays and here it is, all ten hours arranged into separate evenings. The women of Shakespeare, she has determined, are divided among five separate categories of Shakespeare’s changing views, plus one evening of overview, which, necessarily, is kept to under three hours. In all this, she is aided and abetted by Nigel Gore, who must needs portray a whole gang of Shakespeare’s male characters. Fortunately, the two of them get along like gangbusters so everything is, in the overall, very gemutlich.

Tina Packer in a scene from Women of Will
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Packer’s illustrated lecture starts peremptorily with Katherine’s pledge of obeisance from The Taming of the Shrew (Cole Porter in every attendee’s head) before she steps out of character and she and Gore greet everyone in jolly confraternity to explain. And explain she does, all evening long. There are no mysteries in Packer’s vision, there are clarities, as Packer sees them and that is often refreshing and illuminating. It takes a bit of adjusting at the start, though. Packer strides energetically into the center of the Persian carpet that denotes the stage, surrounded by a comfort barrier of cushions on the gym floor, some lights, some props, the audience in bleachers on three sides, the bare wood railings all bearing inscriptions. (Also explained, later on.) She is grandmotherly ample, in boots and tunic, splendid, expressive face and voice, her speech standard British actor, her movement assured, comfortable, all her training apparent. Gore is in easy clothing, charmingly scruffy, comparable in age but in spite of the dead-on actor’s name something of the shit-kicking country boy still in his persona. They are delightfully disarming.

Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in one variation from
The Taming of the Shrew in Women of Will
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

And they need to be. Packer’s conceit of seguing from Desdemona (Othello) to Rosalind (As You Like It), albeit with explanation, is an early stretch which may match her concept but goes against perceived vision of the canon. She frankly acknowledges her feminism and assures us that Shakespeare felt the same, citing the cross-dressing characters, Rosalind, foremost. Even though Nigel Gore, as Othello, strangles her. As Desdemona, not Rosalind. Although Packer admits that the temptation to strangle Rosalind arises from time to time. More stretching. Somewhat later, the two of them are surprisingly appealing as Romeo and Juliet, with the wonderfully simple, effective lighting of designer Les Dickert. In fact, all the production people have done wonders, simply, minimally, always in support, never intrusively, including sound designer Daniel Kluger, and costume and scenic designer Valérie Thérèse Bart. But director Eric Tucker has not been able to draw vital characterization for the many women Tina Packer portrays. She is dominantly Tina Packer. Which is fine for this lecture with scenes, clarity above all, as long as you do not expect to see these different women as different… Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Anjou, Joan of Arc, (oh, dear, that fight scene), Lady Macbeth – no, they’re Tina, Tina, Tina. I assume that Portia and Gertrude are also Packers but they didn’t show up this evening. Perhaps later.

Tina Packer in a scene from Women of Will
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Shakespeare is infinite, no matter who wrote the plays, the poems, a veritable jeroboam of delights all over town every day, every year, from Alan Cumming to James DeVita, with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart soon to appear and who knows what other male actors. We need Tina Packer and her views among them because the unmistakable fact is that the women in Shakespeare are and have always been essential in the plays, not as curiosities, acting outside of gender as Bernhardt had, but in their gender, although the role of gender on stage, back then and now, well that’s another story, not Packer’s.
Women of Will (through June 2, 2013)
The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street, Washington Square South, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.womenofwill.com
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission

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