In Play Reviews

Shakespeare aficionados would be hard-pressed to find a better offering of the Bard’s works than Tina Packer‘s Women of Will now playing at Portland Playhouse.

Playwright and actor Tina Packer. Brud Giles photo.

“Part masterclass/part performance: Funny, fierce, deep and accessible…” is how the folks at Portland Playhouse describe this incredible series of performances. The work is both scholarly and entertaining, and incorporates the playwright’s thesis of William Shakespeare’s treatment of female characters over his lifetime of work.

Nigel Gore and Tina Packer do the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Brud Giles photo.

Packer is joined on stage by veteran Shakespeare actor Nigel Gore. With little to speak of in the way of costumes, plus a few props–trunk, chair, flashlight–the two take the audience on an exciting ride through what Packer asserts are five distinct phases in the way Shakespeare depicted women beginning with the woman as warrior/shrew and concluding with female characters taking the reins and leading the male culture out of violence.

It’s a fascinating take on a lifetime of work–Packer’s as well as Shakespeare’s. Packer–already a known actor and Shakespeare expert–conceived the idea for Women of Will in the mid-1990s and received grants to fund the project through its first incarnation. She later began working with Nigel Gore and director Eric Tucker to bring the play to its present form. It consists of an overview performance, which runs for several nights at Portland Playhouse, followed by one each of five separate performances, each focused on a particular phase of the Shakespeare canon. I saw the overview, and have no reason to believe the individual shows would be any less entertaining or edifying.

Nigel Gore in Women of Will. Brud Giles photo.

Packer and Gore enjoy great acting chemistry. Their performances–whether the teenage Romeo and Juliet, Kate and Petruchio, or Desdemona and Othello–are passionate and electrifying. Between scenes, they talk about the times, the Elizabethan theatre, and politics. It’s chatty–the way scholars chat–but never snobby. Confiding and satisfying.

The creative team for the Portland Playhouse production includes David Levine, stage manager; Daniel Meeker, lighting design; and Riley Lozano, assistant stage manager.

Tina Packer and Nigel Gore in Women of Will. Brud Giles photo.

There’s a lot here to wrap one’s head around. You can take the scholar’s approach, or not. I recommend that you sit back and enjoy the show(s). Overview performances run through the weekend. One night only performances run from Wednesday, November 6 through Sunday, November 10.

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