Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Phyllida Lloyd

The Tempest – Brilliant Gonzo Theater – GO!


This extraordinary production is the third in Phyllida Lloyd’s fearlessly original Shakespeare series for Donmar Warehouse, London. One can only pray there will be more. Allow me to quell possible reservations.

line up

Prison March

1. It’s an all women cast: The protean company quickly dispels any consciousness of sex in movement, mannerism, and inflection better than I’ve ever seen outside the reverse skill of Mark Rylance. As Shakespeare was classically performed exclusively by men, this should evoke less shock than it initially did.

2.The production is framed in a contemporary women’s prison: Its unusual environment allows this production to tackle ideas like honor, power, and betrayal Shakespeare most often saved for men as indigenous to and genderless within an incarcerated community.

The concept  unequivocally works. Though we’re periodically reminded where we are beyond shapeless sweats and metal furniture – with the passing of a guard, resonant buzzer, or reference to “cell,” the context is so well integrated it affects without drawing attention to itself. Underpinnings about which we learn in a talkback – each actress has actually created a prison character – influence without distracting.


Harriet Walter

3. Artistic modernity will interfere with Shakespeare’s syntax, lyricism, or iconic tale: Ostensibly taking place in the imagination of a prisoner, the piece is put together as if raggle-taggle players made their add-on costumes and props from available debris. A lengthy garland of recyclable garbage, for instance, is a part of forager Caliban’s “attire”and later, the set. Huge helium balloons held down by water bottles decorate festivities. Joan Armatrading’s calypso-textured score is hardly the expected. (Music Director Shiloh Coke, also a capable actor.) Despite these playful elements, not for a moment does one lose the pathos, comedy, complicated relationship, or magic embedded in The Tempest. These are consummate actresses – intelligible, defined, impassioned, and decidedly un-highbrow.


Jade Anouka and Occupants of the Ship

In brief: Prospero, Duke of Milan has been usurped by his brother Antonio and cohorts who put the man and his child, Miranda, to sea in a leaky vessel. They’re rescued and brought to an island where the protagonist becomes a wizard and raises the girl. Their only company is primitive servant Caliban and Ariel, a spirit Prospero rescued, now bound to him by promise of freedom.

Those who commandeered home and position accidentally come close enough by boat for Prospero to conjure a storm which washes them ashore-safely due to Ariel’s ministrations. One of these is the young prince with whom Miranda, never having seen a man, falls immediately in love. Will Prospero kill the others, punish, or forgive? Certainly punishment is in order first. True personalities rise.


Leah Harvey and Sheila Atim

Harriet Walter’s Prospero is as commanding as they come. Parental love is vigorous and transparent as is its eventual, infectious joy. Eschewing bluster and volume, Walter palpably seethes up till and through the story’s point of reckoning. Wrestling with the need to forgive is visceral. We see Prospero plan and effect without contrivance. The character is human and comprehensible. Walter is riveting.

As Prospero’s daughter Miranda, Leah Harvey emits carbonated innocence. Her first view of “godly men”, alternative to love interest Ferdinand (Sheila Atim), finds the young woman indisputably enthralled. Harvey moves like a colt and radiates light. Sophie Stanton imbues the oppressed Caliban with tragic dignity as well as elemental survival mode. In this production, the character holds his own. Karen Dunbar’s Trinculo, the only role played in an actor’s own strong accent (Scotts) – though we hear many regional ones in the talkback- and his bosom buddy, Stefano (Jackie Clune), are stellar comic figures and pitch perfect drunks.

Jade Anouka is a standout Ariel among masterful performances. She often seems actually airborne or invisible. The wildness of this actress’s puckish embodiment is as organic as any mortal with whom the stage is shared. Trickery is persuasive. Anouka’s versatility includes a fine singing voice and the playing of steel drums with fluent, ethereal finesse. A prime example of the lack of necessity of special effects.


Jade Anouka

Director Phyllida Lloyd’s reimagined Tempest is a visual treat, emotionally captivating and intellectually fascinating. From the initial impetus of a diverse cast comprised entirely of women with a wide range of ages, physical attributes, race, and backgrounds, to the concept of incarcerated characters bearing affecting histories, living by their own laws, Lloyd has given us courageous theater. (The company has interacted with women’s prisons in the development and sharing of this piece.)

Aisles, doorways, and limited furniture are used to great effect. When occupants of the ship first appear, they’re lined up back to back on a single metal bed wearing life jackets. A central circle is often orbited around as enchantment occurs. Prison trolleys sail through as if illusions. The company’s energy and focus is unflagging. Two hours (without intermission) flies by, yet every scene has enough space to land. The show is dynamic and entertaining.

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Jade Anouka and Celebrants

Movement Director Ann Yee keeps the piece flowing with expansive gestures, spellbound freeze frames, and choreography so seamless it appears as an extension of situational emotion, not formal “numbers.” Ariel’s small, repeated flexing, a reminder of escape from the oak in which Prospero found him imprisoned, is inspired.

Bunny Christie’s prison “Set” is minimal and credible. Chloe Lamford’s Design includes marvelous touches like tiny flashlights each of us find on our seats which are employed well into the play as gathered spirits and Ariel’s boom box which has recorded Prospero’s meant-to-haunt voice. Shapeless prison garb and men’s haircuts add to gender absence.

James Farncombe’s Sound Design- you’ll jump at prison doors, feel storms under your skin, and sense the ethereal, coordinates with Pete Malkin’s terrifically evocative Lighting.

Many of the actors have been in two or three of the series’ plays. Excerpts from the Talkback: “We can speak Shakespeare’s big speeches too. I mean how much fun have the guys been having!?” Jade Anouka…”I created an abused homeless woman who was literally punch drunk and became an alcoholic.” Karen Dunbar…The thought came to me to be schizophrenic. It really helped me to develop different characters.” Leah Harvey. “My character is under a long sentence having committed a crime of passion. Sheila Atim. “Mine was based on a woman I met in prison, an arsonist. Because someone had died in the fire, she was given a life sentence.” Sophie Stanton.

“Shakespeare is a person who believed in transformation. We don’t have to twist his words to say what we mean…My character is based on a real woman named Judy Clark. I wanted her to be political because I played Brutus in Julius Caesar. Clark is in a US prison for driving a getaway car at a violent political crime where people died. She’s done 35 years…a Prospero….who moved, without motivation,  from revolutionary Fury to an almost Buddhist wisdom.”


Photos by Teddy Wolff
Opening: Guard, Harriet Walter, Sophie Stanton

Donmar Warehouse and St. Ann’s Warehouse present
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water Street/DUMBO
Through February 19, 2017

Taming of the Shrew – A Train Off the Tracks


What with Hilary Clinton hopefully on her way to The White House and a resurgence of women’s groups focused on everything from reproductive rights to career opportunities, The Public Theater apparently thinks mounting an all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew is timely quid pro quo. (All productions in Shakespeare’s time were acted exclusively by men.) Even the show’s director,  Phyllida Lloyd, hails from the distaff side.

Lloyd, alas, is the biggest part of the problem here. Seemingly in an effort to emulate Alex Timber’s immensely more successful free-for-all musical take on Love’s Labour’s Lost, we have a concept gone off the rails with no cohesive point of view. Irreverence can be fun, but this…!?

The Taming of the Shrew Delacorte Theatre

Donna Lynn Champlin, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Crush Jumbo

In brief, Petruchio (Janet McTeer) arrives from Verona “to wive it wealthily in Padua.” When told the likeliest candidate is a shrew named Katherina/Kate (Cush Jumbo), he resolves to acquire the lady by denying her faults. Kate’s younger sister Bianca (Gayle Rankin) has a slew of suitors. Predominant among these are locals Gemio (Judy Gold) and Hortensio (Stacey Sargeant), and the newly arrived Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore).

The girls’ father, Baptista (Latanya Richardson Jackson), will not allow Bianca’s marriage before Kate is suitably paired off. He will, however, permit tutors access to his daughters. Lucentio switches places with his servant Tranio (Adrienne C. Moore) and is presented to papa as a teacher of literature. In a really funny scene, he declares his identity and love between passages of Gone With the Wind. Bianca responds “I know you not. I trust you not. (reading) I’ll never be hungry again!” She’s conveniently if irrationally dressed like Scarlett O’Hara.

Not to be outdone, Hortensio masquerades as a music instructor. Lucentio wins. Tranio secures her hand for his master (still disguised as him) by promising a large dowry. After a mix-up involving Lucentio’s faux and actual father, servant and master switch back.

The Taming of the Shrew Delacorte Theatre

Janet McTeer and Crush Jumbo

Drunk (there’s a bottle in his paper bag) and under dressed in this version, Petruchio weds Kate and drags her off in his hysterical, full sized RV, painted with pin-ups. (Kudos to Mark Thompson.) He deprives his bride of food and sleep at a trailer camp – killing her with ersatz kindness – until starving and exhausted, she gives in to his every whim. Upon returning home for Bianca’s wedding, he bets on and proves the shrew’s change. Kate’s iconic speech about wifely duties/subservience is a surprise to everyone.

A pithy role long relished by formidable actresses, Kate must be an equal to Petruchio for the play to work. She must match him in quickness of wit, intelligence, and stubborn pride – in other words, a prize. The best performances show slow recognition that this strong, attractive man is, in fact, worth having; that it’s her decision to submit, that rather than diminish Kate, it will eventually give her leverage. Petruchio meanwhile grows to admire what he now ostensibly owns and will, it’s implied, relinquish his outrageous test demands. The “doormat” speech is delivered with an arched eyebrow by a woman who has found her water level .

The Taming of the Shrew Delacorte Theatre

Crush Jumbo, Janet McTeer

Beginning and ending with a beauty pageant, the British Lloyd acknowledges that women were judged by beauty and financial gain. That she paints both female protagonists as unworthy of further examination is as anti-feminist as it gets.

In this production, the heroine is a tantrum-throwing, childish brat (and not believable as that, either). As conceived one presumes by Lloyd and played by an ill-suited Cush Jumbo, her only merit is a dowry. The relationship is meaningless. Kate is a Stepford Wife. Lest we leave with that impression, she has an aria da capo fit of screaming rebellion at the end and is dispensed in a manner that makes no sense. What ?!

Bianca’s air-headed, blonde beauty queen persona is embodied rather well by Gayle Rankin with comedic flair, despite directed shouting. It would work better had she a significant Kate to play her opposite.

The Taming of the Shrew Delacorte Theatre

Latanya Richardson Jackson, Janet McTeer

Also good are Stacey Sargeant as Hortensio (replete with accordion and some well finessed timing) and Adrienne C. Moore as a genial Tranio. LaTanya Richardson Jackson’s Baptista lacks paternal and class authority.

A call-out should be made to Judy Gold (Gremio) who rescued a stall due to the malfunctioning RV, with ad-libbed comedy, some of which was lighthearted vaudeville, some of which was unnecessarily vulgar.

The best reason to sit through this mishmash is far and away Janet McTeer (Petruchio). This mercurial actress, soon to appear on Broadway in Les Liasons Dangereuses, imbues her swaggering, masculine role with so much visual testosterone, reality feels suspended. She moves, gestures, smokes, drinks and deeply laughs as would the cocky rogue. Petruchio manhandles Kate with confident sovereignty and no regard for the weakness of her sex. Commands are spit, aftermath watchful. McTeer, calculates, manipulates, revels, and gloats in perfect tenor. A masterful turn.

The Taming of the Shrew Delacorte Theatre

Rose Gilmore, Gayle Rankin

Mark Thompson’s evocative tent and wagon Set seems irrelevant to a piece with not a moment of circus parody or performance. His 1950’s Costumes fair better with the help of Leah J. Loukas’s unflattering (the style then) Hair and Wig Design. The production also, however, utilizes western gear, sometimes adding cowboy hats to suits from another geography. Petruchio resembles a Texas Hell’s Angel. Kate looks like a character from Dollywood (Dolly Parton’s theme park). Nor are the rich dressed any differently than their servants. At least give us that disparity within a chosen genre.

Live music between scenes consists of abrasive, electronic, bass sound with a tad of rhythm and next to no melody. (Sam Davis) Excerpted disco tunes and middle-of-the-road pop are often humorously inserted but rarely from the 1950s and never country/western. Disconnect is constant. (A company dance finale -Broadway meets disco – is sheer copycat.)

The company is hit or miss with language that should be crisp and intelligible whatever its proffered context. While I have no problem when two (black) servants speak with ghetto street inflection, general enunciation lacks the precision necessary to make a conversational approach accessible and entertaining. Most of these actresses seem untrained in Shakespeare. The further afield a production is taken, the more important its dialogue.

As always, the outdoor theater itself is a unique experience. Besides helicopters who frustratingly never seem rerouted on performance nights, we’re visited by an enormous raccoon and four perfectly arrayed geese. The weather is glorious.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Janet McTeer

The Public Theater presents Free Shakespeare in the Park
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
The Delacorte Theater
Through June 26, 2016

Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida – July 19-August 14, 2016