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Anglo theatre: Erin Shields's “Thy Woman’s Weeds”: Bad-Ass “Bardesses”

by Yanik Comeau (Comunik Média / ZoneCulture)

   Many people forget that back when Shakespeare (or his writers' room because maybe he was just a head writer or showrunner apparently, according to some scholars…) wrote his colossal body of work (plays, sonnets, poems…), women were not allowed to step unto a stage, so his female characters were played by the most “delicate” men in the company. That’s why, even in the Bard’s most famous romantic comedies or tragedies, you will never read “they kiss” in his original stage direction.

   Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are therefore lukewarm at best to play which, for many centuries, has been a frustration for actresses. That being said, “(…) it’s actually remarkable that he created the incredible female characters he did”, says director Amanda Kellock. Plus, with modern staging and directing liberties, actresses have even played some of the Bard’s best male characters in some audacious productions. I, for one, remember Françoise Faucher’s memorable Prospero in Alice Ronfard’s La Tempête (The Tempest) in the late 80s.

   Shakespeare’s body of work is so vast, rich and generally universal that it makes perfect sense that initiatives like Repercussion Theatre’s new play development series Words With Will, “which invites commissioned playwrights to “talk back to Shakespeare” in some way”, would come to light. It makes even more sense that Governor General Award-winning feminist playwright Erin Shields (If We Were Birds, Beautiful Man) would be called upon to tackle Big Will’s shortcomings as far as female characters go and, unfortunately, the challenge women still face toward “full participation in the performing arts”.

   The result of Shields's brilliant, deep delve into Shakespeare’s works is Thy Woman’s Weeds, a ferociously funny, irreverent yet respectful homage to his most notable female characters through the eyes of both those characters and a great cast who regularly breaks Centaur Theatre’s fourth wall with wink after delicious wink that allow the audience to feel like a partner in crime. Thy Woman’s Weeds is both fiercely entertaining and disarmingly educational to those who might not be Shakespeare aficionados. Those who are afraid of Shakespeare should NOT stay away.

   Together, playwright Erin Shields and director Amanda Kellock, with the help of scenic designer Ana Cappelluto's magnificently efficient, eclectic and homey set, bring an amazing cast of seven actresses together to bring to life close to 50 characters (Shakespeare’s of course, but also directors, hilariously critical and silly theater patrons, and actresses going through the audition process). Although the show is almost two hours long, time just flies by with this amazing bunch of multi-generational, diverse actresses who are all at the top of their game.

   One can only imagine what fun it is for these great performers to have all these amazing tableaus to play successively because it certainly is fun for the audience member to feel the sort of behind-the-scenes privilege that he/she/they get to experience from the first to the last second of the performance.

   Kudos all around!

Thy Woman’s Weeds by Erin Shields Directed by Amanda Kellock Assistant Director: Ravyn R. Bekh Dramaturg: Emma Tibaldo Starring Deena Aziz, Leni Parker, Joy Ross-Jones, Espoir Segbeaya, Warona Setshwaelo, Felicia Shulman and Julie Tamiko Manning Stage Manager: Melanie St-Jacques Assistant Stage Manager: Elyse Quesnel Apprentice Stage Manager : Caroline Nowacki Set Designer: Ana Cappelluto Costume Designer: Diana Uribe Lighting Designer: Zoe Roux Sound Designer and Composer: Troy Slocum Fight Director: Robert Montcalm Movement Coach: Leslie Baker “Thy Woman’s Weeds” was commissioned by Repercussion Theatre and developed in partnership with Playwright’s Workshop Montréal Production: Centaur Theatre in partnership with Repercussion Theatre and Tableau d’Hôte Theatre From April 23rd to May 12th, 2024 (duration: 1h50 no intermission) Centaur Theatre, 453, rue Saint-François-Xavier, Vieux-MontréalReservations: 514-288-3161 Information: Photos: Andrée Lanthier

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