Entertainment » Theatre

Women of Will, the Complete Journey

by Jonathan Leaf
Contributor
Thursday Apr 18, 2013
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Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in the commercial Off-Broadway production of Tina Packer’s ’Women of Will’ at the Gym at Judson
Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in the commercial Off-Broadway production of Tina Packer’s ’Women of Will’ at the Gym at Judson  (Source:Matthew Murphy)

One of the worst things about the occupation of acting is that few people in the entertainment business care all that much about how good you are at it. TV and film producers would far rather cast bad actors that are well known, likeable or pretty than unknown greats.

And cultivating your talent and understanding for the classic roles is unlikely to do much to boost your income, whatever it may do for your soul.

I was reminded of that this past weekend as I attended two tremendous performances that are among the five distinct presentations which make up the whole of Tina Packer’s "Women of Will," now playing at Judson Gym in the Village. All five shows depict key scenes in Shakespeare’s plays that focus on the lives and problems of women.

Performing and commenting on the scenes are two of the more gifted and knowledgeable Shakespearean actors in the country if not the world: Tina Packer and Nigel Gore.

Although both have had distinguished careers, neither has achieved great fame. Packer’s acclaim has mostly come from her creation of the highly regarded summer theater festival Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, while Gore has acted in featured roles in leading and regional theaters all over the world.

Both shows I saw, parts two and four, ran roughly ninety minutes. Each was acted on a bare stage.

This is not to say that the presentation is simple. In fact, director Eric Tucker uses a wide array of devices. This includes striking sound effects, music in all styles and complex blocking and lighting. The whole very effectively focuses the audience’s attention as it gives each scene a special flavor and poignancy.

Some moments, of course, particularly stood out. In the first show I attended, Packer and Gore played scenes from "Antony and Cleopatra," "Romeo and Juliet," "Troilus and Cressida," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "The Merchant of Venice," with Packer tackling Juliet, Cleopatra, Cressida, Beatrice and Jessica successively.

Tina Packer and Nigel Gore are nothing less than extraordinary when matched to more wizened roles like those which pop up in Macbeth and Lear. To these parts they bring not only great clarity and immense feeling but considerable humor.

During the second show I saw, the pair played off one another in scenes from "Coriolanus," "King Lear" and "Macbeth." Here Packer took on the male part of Coriolanus before essaying each of Lear’s three daughters and Lady Macbeth.

As these are all great plays and these are singularly thoughtful, sensitive, humane and experienced players, there was never a time when one was not conscious of the greatness of the poetry or the grandeur of the drama.

But Packer and Gore were especially inspired in playing Beatrice and Benedick and in their scenes from Lear.

Packer is a commanding woman of self-aware intellect, and I doubt she was a perfect fit for Juliet when she was a young woman. Similarly, Gore is a little too poised and philosophical, I think, to be an ideal Romeo.

But they’re nothing less than extraordinary when matched to more wizened roles like those that pop up in Macbeth and Lear. To these parts they bring not only great clarity in their lines readings and immense feeling but also considerable humor.

The audience in attendance gets the additional benefit of their immensely learned and often amusing instruction between these scenes on the history of the plays and about Shakespeare and his world.

Other shows in the series cover key scenes with female characters in Shakespeare’s early comedies and melodramas, his middle period comedies and tragedies and his final romances.

While I have seen just two of the shows so far, I suggest that for anyone who loves Shakespeare or acting, this is a memorable happening.

"Women of Will" runs through May 26 at the Judson Gym at Judson Church, 243 Thompson Street in New York. For more information or tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.womenofwill.com

Jonathan Leaf is a playwright and journalist living in New York.

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