Women in Shakespeare find their musical voices

 Isabel performance blends script and song in a three-woman show 

Drama professor Chick Reid, pianist Julia Brook and visiting soprano Donna Bennett in an adaptation of Shakespearean drama.

For the bard-reading modern woman, the appeal of Shakespeare’s plays can sometimes fall flat when reading his mild-mannered female characters on the page. 

But the life of these characters are in the performance, not the script, and the efforts of drama professor Chick Reid, pianist Julia Brook, and visiting soprano Donna Bennett to fully flesh out the women in Shakespeare doesn’t fall short. 

On Sunday and on stage at the Isabel, an urgent and earnest Reid performed famous monologues of the most notorious women of Shakespeare — Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra and Kate. As the characters changed, so did Reid’s countenance and tone, highlighting their diverse personalities while sharing a common need for individuality separate from their male counterparts. 

This was where the concept of the performance lay: by erasing the men from the picture the performance forced the audience to encounter the Shakespearean woman on their own terms. 

“Romeo has been banished,” Reid said, in a quiet voice that echoed around an attentive auditorium, and the line proved all the more powerful with the knowledge that Romeo would never grace the stage. 

Juliet, isolated from her Romeo, became a woman overwhelmed by her own loss and betrayal, and not a fragmented piece of a doomed relationship. 

The climax of the performance was in Bennett’s accompanying rendition to Juliet’s monologue of Bellini’s early nineteenth century Italian libretto ‘O quante volte’ with a voice so powerful and so moving that you could feel Juliet’s tears and loneliness without seeing them performed. 

The musical accompaniment gave the artistic directors creative freedom to portray the psychology of their characters beyond the words Shakespeare gave to his characters. The musical choices ranged widely from Italian opera to upbeat musical numbers from the 1950s. It wouldn’t be opera in another language for three straight hours — a relief to me.

While Juliet was accompanied by a melancholic lament, Cleopatra’s time on stage was accentuated by the regal ‘Giulio Cesare’ by Handel, dripping with monarchical power. 

Hamlet’s Ophelia was accompanied by a tragically optimistic performance of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. Through song, each female character expressed their sense of anger, loss, and isolation as they met their various tragic ends.

But not all was doom and gloom — a comedic high point was Queen Margaret’s monologue from Richard III, where she viciously curses the male monarch to be a hog and a toad. 

Bennett put on a hilarious show of the song ‘I Hate Men’ from the musical Kiss Me Kate, a welcome reprieve from the tragic heroines that came before her. 

Although the pattern of monologue followed by song felt repetitive, the show didn’t lose sight of its goal. 

The truly electric moments when the three women on stage interacted with each other acknowledged the others’ emotions, breaking free from the isolation of their scripts.

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