Shakesqueer, directed by Joanna Bowman, brought some of Shakespeare’s most iconic scenes to the Barron Theatre with a bit of a twist. Bowman and her team stripped the scenes of their gender roles and challenged actors to build and restructure the interactions between each other, devoid of the arrangements usually in place.
The set was simple, a bare stage with all actors sitting in rows along the side and then leaving once their scene was complete. A spotlight was used for the soliloquys as well as the Romeo and Juliet balcony, which the actors sometimes weren’t able to stay in. For the purposes of a show whose goal is to draw your attention to the actors and their work, I really enjoyed the modest set up.
There was much to be loved about Shakesqueer, but its biggest flaw was a lack of cohesion. The order of the performances suggested that the director had thought carefully about the dynamics of the show. For example, high energy, multi-person comedy scenes were generally placed between slower, more dramatic solo performances, and a variation of length between them. While I appreciate what the disparity offered, scenes received little to no mood transition between two widely different genres. Adding to the issue were the soliloquys, which, while admirably delivered, were often too short to showcase the skills of the actor, or the new gender role in the scene. I understand that working with a “minimal” stage, as was set forth for Shakesqueer, limits the possibility of a tonal shift. But I think some experimentation with lighting or sound would have done wonders for this problem.
In tandem with the lack of cohesion was the lack of chemistry between some of the actors. Annabel Ekelund and Samantha Janosik (Hamlet and Ophelia respectively) provide the best example. Both actors delivered great performances, but I couldn’t feel the ebb and flow between them as the conflict built. Their approaches were so vastly different that the dialogue sometimes felt staccato, building momentum and then stopping abruptly. I know that the portrayal of Shakespeare requires excellent stand-alone performances, and in this regard Ekelund and Janosik do not fall short. But in the context of this show, with the scene plucked from the environment of the play, there needed to be more unity.
My favorite scenes of the night were pulled from Richard III, Henry V, and The Taming of the Shrew. I enjoyed Cat Scott’s (Richard III) manic, enticing solo performance, as well as the team of Cara Mahoney, Alice Gold, and Steph Boyle (Henry V, Katherine, and Alice respectively) for a mirthful portrayal of failed wooing. My highest compliments go to Caitlin Morris and Cara Mahoney (Petruchio and Katherine, respectively), who brought great chemistry and energy to an interaction I could have watched for hours.
As a show, Shakesqueer was enjoyable but needed some work, and for what the director was attempting, a “mélange of scenes,” it still fell a bit short. The point of this showcase was to highlight the fact that Shakespeare does not need the structures and reverence often placed upon it in the modern world. While I agree, some of the scenes and soliloquys still fell into classic dynamics the director was trying to transform. I would have liked to have seen the actors better explore the changes the scene experienced once the structures were removed. I appreciated the challenging of the roles that seem so set in stone in modern day theatre, but a better execution was necessary to truly break the mold. Critiques aside, I did enjoy Shakesqueer, and hope Bowman continues to test established expectations.