Shakespeare’s Women features scenes from 15 different plays
What is left to say about William’s Shakespeare’s body of work? As it turns out, a lot. Despite being 400 years old, the Bard’s work continues to be told, reinterpreted, analyzed, reimagined, and retold in modern contexts. Shakespeare somehow manages to be relevant throughout history. Phoenix Theatre’s newest production Shakespeare’s Women delves into this expansive body of work and analyzes the heroines of his plays.
To begin, this play is more of an anthology of Shakespeare’s works than a standalone production. Strung together from 15 different plays, Shakespeare’s Women draws attention to the women characters of Shakespeare’s plays. Select scenes are pulled from these different texts, each with a significant focus on the female characters as they discuss the complicated nature of love. Shakespeare’s Women also frames these scenes as the background action of a modern house party, with the characters exiting to deal with their own drama for a moment.
That being said, the play really is just short scenes from Shakespeare’s body of work strung together. Some plays have multiple scenes that appear through Shakespeare’s Women, but others just get one. For example, there’s King Lear, with the scene of him banishing Cordelia, as well as her return at the end of his life. There really isn’t much of a framework stringing the different scenes together other than the set itself. It feels like the audience only sees a tiny glimpse of the larger chaos inside the house that is never revealed to them.
But despite jumping around to different scenes in completely different plays of different genres, there’s never a moment where it feels like whiplash. One scene will be from Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and the very next will be from Macbeth. The framing device of all these plays happening at a house party, where the audience only ever hears loud dance music from, does a lot of heavy lifting to bring these different characters and plays together into a somewhat cohesive whole. The only time where this doesn’t work is at the end of the first act, where all the heroines come out for a song about ‘standing together’ where it doesn’t feel earned at all and rather forced.
And there is a unifying theme that brings all the scenes together: love. Whether it’s romantic (mostly romantic), platonic, or familial, everyone is dealing with the messiness of love. It can be the beginning of a relationship, or the end of one, or the messy in between when everything is called into question. But it’s all about love, and how the women of Shakespeare’s works see love.
But I wouldn’t say Shakespeare’s Women has a story, it’s more of an exploration of these characters, but doesn’t dig as deep as it could with the scenes being as short as they are. I also wouldn’t say it’s as simple as a highlight reel of famous scenes either.
For standout performances, it’s hard to find a perfect one. Afterall, it’s Shakespeare and all the actors performing gave it their all. There’s also a bunch of double casting, where actors get to play multiple roles, so everyone gets to stretch their acting chops. The only actors who suffer from this are the ones who are only in one scene, such as Ximena Garduño Rodríguez who plays Cleopatra. I wish we could have gotten to see more of her.
The actors manage to deliver distinct performances for the audience to be able to tell all the characters apart, although the mens’ costumes were a little lacking next to the womens’. The women got distinct costumes for each character, while the men got slight variations on the same suit. The big difference was Hamlet, who wore all black in comparison to the black jackets and white shirts.
But I think the enjoyment of Shakespeare’s Women comes down to the performances. It’s really about the actors handling abrupt changes in tone, as well as the back and forth their characters are put in. I would recommend it for this alone, just to see the verbal fighting the actors can get into as they bounce banter off each other.
Shakespeare’s Women is a light, fun exploration of the Bard’s work that shows off some of his most impactful and famous scenes. While it doesn’t have much of a classic plot, it really comes down to the individual performances more than anything else. Not everything has to be a super deep exploration about humanity. Sometimes, it’s just an excuse to talk about love.
Shakespeare’s Women runs from March 17–26 with streamed performances on March 24–26. Tickets can be purchased here.