Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shakespeare's Sister

In her sweet mash-up Shakespeare's Sister, director/adaptor Irina Brook serves the audience Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras, and actual soup.

As the audience enters, five women are already onstage, which is an attractive, fully equipped kitchen. They chop, they stir, they cook, they sing, they dance. And they talk and talk. The words are those of Woolf and Duras, and many are familiar.

In fact, there is a dated-ness to the piece, as though it were the 1970s instead of the 2010s. On the other hand, the content is unfortunately still timely, particularly to Brook, who herself balances the many quotidian and extraordinary responsibilities that are the lot of the female artist. And it is certainly true that most woman still lack a "room of one's own" (as do most men, really).

Beyond reminding us of the intricate pressures of being a woman--and the joys of being women together--it is hard to understand totally what Brook is trying to do here. The dances are fun, but it's not clear why they are there or what they signify. The sexual interlude is downright confusing: is it satire, is it self-expression, is it something else altogether? It feels as though Brook is trying for something deep and expressive, yet the results are more pleasant than hard-hitting.

The quintet of performers are Winsome Brown, Joan Juliet Buck, Nicole Ansari, Yibin Li (who also plays violin), and Sadie Jemmett (who also plays guitar and sings). In many ways, they don't coalesce as a whole--not in tone, talent, personalities, or technique. However, the heterogeneity is part of the charm of the piece. The inviting set design is by Noelle Ginefri.

It is possible that the constant pairing of Brook's name with that of her legendary father, director Peter Brook, does her a disservice, setting inappropriate expectations. I understand the publicity value of this connection, but it's an odd way to sell a piece that is so strongly about women.

(press ticket; 8th row on the aisle)

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