Theater: If you want to watch some whack-job’s crazy conspiracy theory about the true William Shakespeare, then you’ll have to go see this movie. But if you want to watch a woman who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the Bard, then go see Tina Packer perform “Women of Will,” now playing at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. When Packer talks about Shakespeare, you’d be wise to listen. As founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, she’s an acclaimed interpreter of Shakespeare’s work. Her ambitious show “Women of Will” takes audiences through Shakespeare’s plays by concentrating on the female characters. She talks about how the Bard’s depiction of women grew and deepened over the years, and she often connects that back to what may have been going on in his personal life. Packer not only conceived “Women of Will,” but she performs in it along with her acting partner Nigel Gore. It’s interesting and insightful, and it’s playing at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge.
“Women of Will” can equally be characterized as: the most fun you will ever have at an English lecture, a Frankenstein’s monster of script limbs and discussion thread and an adoring mix tape: the Best of Shakespeare’s Ladies. Shakespeare and Company founder/artistic director Tina Packer explores Shakespeare with wit and vigor through his female characters. The piece, which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two other grants to create, pairs Packer’s love of the plays with her insight on the evolution of Shakespeare’s female characters and how their growth coincides with the Bard’s. This approach to Shakespeare’s work presents unique obstacles for Packer, her co-star Nigel Gore, and director Eric Tucker. At its best, it swivels between skillful performances of Shakespeare’s characters and engaging discourse full of personality and style.
Only hard-core Shakespeareophiles need apply to “Women of Will.” In Tina Packer’s Bard-a-thon, the three hours’ traffic on our stage is an exhaustive analysis of the feminine figure in Shakespeare’s work, from Rosalind to Lady Macbeth.
Packer isn’t short on expertise: The venerable actress and director is the founding artistic director of Lenox’s Shakespeare & Company. She’s directed more than 50 productions of the Bard’s work, and acted in many others. “Women of Will” is an ever-evolving project that she’s been working on since the ’90s, directed by Eric Tucker. It’s a combination of performances of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and scholarly analysis.
Tina Packer, Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare and Company, the noted center for Shakespeare performance and study in Lenox, MA, started developing the material that has formed itself into this dramatic milestone fifteen or so years ago. It consists in a dramatic review of many of Shakespeare’s female roles, within an embrace of analysis, creative amalgamation and good fun. With the talented and companionable help of actor Nigel Gore and an occasional audience member, Packer puts together a comprehensive and compelling program that packs together a lot of relevant history and interpretation, as well as a hefty dose of fine acting.
Tina Packer’s tour de force WOMEN OF WILL : THE OVERVIEW is now playing at the Central Square Theater presented by The Nora Theatre Company! “WOMEN OF WILL” is an exploration of Shakespeare’s art and psyche through his female characters, from Juliet to Lear’s daughters. The title itself cuts many ways (women of “Will” Shakespeare, “willful” women, and “will” as Tina informs us, also meant “sex”) and this is Packer’s masterwork, the product of decades of performance and analysis.
(Cambridge, MA) The female characters of Shakespeare’s plays are badly outnumbered by the males, sometimes fifteen to one, explains veteran thespian Tina Packer in Women of Will at the Central Square Theater. In the Bard’s works, women often operate as others and also-rans, virgins and whores, rarely receiving the main focus. But when they appear, their actions and emotions speak volumes, both about Shakespeare and society.
In Women of Will, Packer startles by putting the spotlight on the women of Shakespeare’s scripts. In a series of chapter-like shows or a one-night overview, Packer guides us through Shakespeare’s evolving females, who grow from shadowy projections at the beginning of his writing career to full-fledged spiritual beings. We also see through Packer that only those women in Shakespeare’s scripts who lie and hide to break free from societal norms can gain enough power to survive.
Women of Will isn’t a play, exactly. It’s a cross between a great college lecture and a wonderful “extras” feature on a DVD. Packer sets up each scene with a lively introduction and easy-going banter with her scene partner, the charismatic Nigel Gore. To keep the evening from being merely an academic exercise, Packer and Gore maintain an improvisational spirit and even pull audience members into key scenes.
Tina Packer has been in bed with Shakespeare for at least 40 years. And as founding artistic director of Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company, she enjoys a relationship with literature’s alpha dead white male that’s more visceral than academic. Now, in Women of Will (presented by Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater through November 6), she’s ready to kiss and tell. Actually, she’s been kissing and telling for a while; this witty, penetrating, idiosyncratic examination of Shakespeare’s deepening understanding of the feminine in his psyche has been in the making for 15 years. When I saw it in the ’90s, it was performed in three parts that moved chronologically from the early histories and comedies through the late romances. It has since both expanded and contracted: Packer, with her scene partner, Nigel Gore, conducts her exploration as a single work, subtitled The Overview, through October 30, and in five parts, dubbed The Complete Journey, November 4-6.
A sort of master class — part lecture, part demonstration — Women of Will alternates among assertions about Shakespeare and the performance (by two accomplished actors steeped to their eyeballs in the Bard) of cuttings from the plays. And though Packer has her theories, she is happy to assign to Shakespeare the “infinite variety” he allots Cleopatra. In The Overview, this is demonstrated from the get-go when Packer offers, in rapid fire, three possible readings of Katherine’s final speech from The Taming of the Shrew. Deprived of food, sleep, and, most important, language, this last-act Kate, Packer opines, is either manic, playing cute, or clinically depressed. Then, as Gore’s brutal Petruchio drags her about on a leash, she renders the speech, jumping from one interpretation to the next to the next.