NEW YORK (AP) — Tina Packer's eloquent discourse on Shakespeare's female characters, "Women of Will," is a long-time labor of love, and in this case, Packer's labors were not lost.
Founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., Packer has taught Shakespeare's canon in several U.S. colleges, including Harvard, M.I.T., NYU and Columbia.
Her years of experience researching, teaching, directing and acting in his plays are integral to the polished, intellectual appeal of "Women of Will," in which she analyzes and enacts quite a few of Shakespeare's female characters while correlating their evolution to possible developments in his personal life.
Performing with spirited charm, humor, and just a few props in a minimalist setting at The Gym at Judson, Packer provides an abridged, two-and-a-half hour version of her lengthier work, "Women of Will: The Complete Journey."
She and her director Eric Tucker must have had a difficult time pruning the original, as her enthusiasm for her subject matter is boundless and irresistible. The result is a bit like having a time-traveling speed-date with Shakespeare and his work, which leaves you wanting more.
Packer's engaging, five-part analysis of the progression of Shakespeare's attitude toward his female — and male — characters over the years sets up vigorous enactment of relevant speeches and scenes. She also banters with her onstage partner, the equally proficient Nigel Gore, who initially jumps out to proclaim, "I come bearing testosterone." Wordplay abounds, even in the title, as Packer gleefully explains the lesser-known Elizabethan meaning of the word "will."
But it's the acting that truly captivates. By turns playful and fierce, Packer alters mercurially from a "woman warrior" like Joan of Arc to a bashful young Juliet to a despairing Lady Macbeth, to name but a few of the most familiar. She even tackles the submission speech made by Katharine near the end of "The Taming of the Shrew," which is generally so objectionable to 21st-century women. "I can't say this," she announces disgustedly, then proceeds to say it at least twice, with alternate interpretations.
At times their banter breaks the spells these accomplished actors repeatedly cast with their engrossing enactments. Yet this production succeeds as a thoughtful, entertaining reflection on the evolution of Shakespeare's art and characters of any and all genders.