WIL Festival 5.2: “The Comedie of Errors”

 The Original Practice Shakespeare Festival performance of “The Comedie of Errors” was an all-female cast. I wrote a few weeks ago, in response to a Globe and Mail article, about the importance of gender parity in Shakespeare-oriented companies. I have also discussed in two recent WIL Fest posts (here and here) about the ways in which women playing male roles as either male or female characters is in keeping with the spirit of repertory system as well as the gender theory of the period from whence they come. One might say, an all-female cast is as accurate as the all-male casts of the Renaissance.

A benefit of working in repertory is that the plays placed side-by-side can speak to each other. Put in close proximity, they can suggest themes and ideas that might be otherwise subsumed by other aspects of the plays. An all-female “Errors” is a smart move to follow “The Taming of the Shrew”: it gave actual women agency to make performance choices within their peer group immediately after a play nearly impossible to find female empowerment. While actors routinely play against a character’s assigned gender, here nearly half of this cast chose to play their role as men, including Kelsea Ashenbrenner (as the officer), Isabella Buckner, Amy Driesler, Lissie Lewis, Sullivan Mackintosh, and Shandi Muff. What this implies to me is that cross-gender casting and cross-gender performances have become commonplace for the company: it is simply part of the system in which they work. What did it do for William Shakespeare’s shortest play?

From left: Isabella Buckner (Dromio of Syracuse), Shandi Muff (Antipholus of Syracuse), Sarah Jane Fridlich (Luciana), Shani Harris-Bagwell (Adriana), and Emilie Landmann (Angelo the Goldsmith).

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WIL Festival 2.2: “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar”

2017 has been the summer of “Caesar.” It is one of the two new plays that OPS Fest has introduced into their repertoire. It is also playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival down in Ashland. The director of that production, in a talk-back in February, stated that she doesn’t know why there are acts four and five (read: anything after the murder of Caesar). That is a common misconception if you think the play is an autobiographical account rather than considering what is tragic about the quality of a major political figure’s death. The title is, after all, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” and not “The History of Julius Caesar.” Hence the on-going problems with the Public’s production of this play in New York, as company member Hailey Bachrach discusses here. What does OPS Fest offer to the spectrum of “Caesars” out there this summer?

From left: Beth Yocam (Brutus), Isabella Buckner (Cassius), Sullivan Mackintosh (Cymber), Brian Allard (Caesar), Lauren Saville (Decius Brutus), Shani Harris-Bagwell (Lepidus), David Bellis-Squires (Dardanius), and Michael Streeter (Soothsayer).

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