William Shakespeare wrote memorable female characters, many of them laced within male-dominated plays. The Rude Mechanicals’ She Speaks came about when director Leanne G. Stump realized that “If you strung the best female scenes together, they’d almost make their own show.” Neatly divided into comedies and histories, She Speaks explores scenes from Shakespeare’s most notable heroines. The cast, with Stump’s direction, has helped create a feast for fans of The Bard.
The breezy, thirty-minute first act began with a prologue from Antony and Cleopatra by Lynda Clark, in which Cleopatra spoke of women inhabiting “our world that equals theirs.”
From there, a subsection of the play entitled “I am the man,” which focused on Shakespeare’s women characters who had to dress as men, felt a bit rushed; in rapid succession, there were scenes from The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Of the scenes, Christine Evangelista’s Viola from Twelfth Night stood out.
A Midsummers Night’s Dream featured the combative Hermia and Helena, and Ren Stone and Clark running through the audience and out to the stage to continue their heated discourse. Act 2, Scene 1 from The Taming of the Shrew featured bickering between Petruchio and Katharine, who complained of Petruchio, “You crow like a craven.” Patrick Stump and Allison McAlister had a strong chemistry as Petruchio and Katharine. Act 3, Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing featured Hero (Claudia Bach), Ursula (Christine Evangelista) and Beatrice (Liana Olear) furtively manipulating the heartstrings of love.
In a subsection of the play entitled “Weird Women,” the show displayed scenes from The Scottish Play, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The three witches from The Scottish Play, played by the outstanding Jaki Demarest, Stone and McAlister was scary, and adumbrated a scene from that play in the second act.
In a second act that focused on Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, Act 3, Scene 4 of Henry V featured the cuteness of the French Princess Katherine (Director Stump, who well-affected a French accent) learning English from her attendant Alice (Olear). Act 5, Scene 3 of Henry VI, Part I achieved the height of drama as Joan of Arc (McAlister) prayed to “help me this once that France may get the field!”
Henry VIII, Act 2, Scene 3, conjured all the intrigue of Henry’s court in a few short minutes, thanks to Stone as Anne Bullen, Olear as Old Lady and Patrick Stump as Chamberlain. Richard III’s Act 4, Scene 4 heartbreakingly featured Queen Margaret (Demarest), Queen Elizabeth (Bach), and the Duchess of York (McAlister) as they grappled with the implications of rule under wicked King Richard. Demarest excelled in bringing pathos to that scene.
In an odd, but beautifully synchronized bit of staging, the subsection of the show entitled “The Lovers” featured interlacing scenes between Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida. When one character from Romeo and Juliet would deliver a line, the next line would come from Troilus and Cressida. Romeo was played by the talented John Wallis and Troilus by Patrick Stump. Cressida and Juliet were fabulously played by Evangelista and Bach respectively.
Demarest’s turn as Lady Macbeth was frightening. Even though the scene lasted a few minutes, it evoked every bit the fear and dread from the play it came from. The same was true for Act 1, Scene 1 of King Lear, in which Evangelista’s Cordelia, Lear’s “good” daughter, sadly intoned “my love is richer than my tongue.” Goneril (Stone) and Regan (Bach) were two-faced and evil, and Peter Eichman’s Lear was duped and on the way to a bad end.
McAlister was awesome as the mad Ophelia in Act 4, Scene 5 of Hamlet. Patrick Stump excelled as Horatio and Demarest powerfully brought Queen Gertrude to life. Romeo and Juliet’s Act 3, Scene 5 was dominated by Lord Capulet (Eichman), who during an argument with Juliet (Bach) commanded her to “speak not, reply not.”
Act 4, Scene 3 of Othello featured a touching scene between Emilia (Demarest) and the doomed Desdemona (Clark). McAlister’s monologue as Rosalind from As You Like It pointed out that “a good play needs no epilogue.”
I liked the use of a screen to project act and scene numbers, thanks to Lighting/Sound/Projection Operator Erin Nealer. Joshua Engel’s Lighting Design helped make many of the scenes dramatic and scary where appropriate. Costumes consisted of various hats and capes, with the actors wearing Rude Mechanical t-shirts underneath—red for the women and blue for the men (no costume designer was credited). She Speaks is an adeptly acted and directed string of Shakespeare’s enduring, woman-centered scenes, great for lovers of excellent stagecraft.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
She Speaks plays through June 17, 2017 at The Rude Mechanicals performing at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8770, or purchase them online.