By Diane Grant
I discovered the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company very late in the game so for many of you, this is old news!
The LAWSC was founded in 1993 by Lisa Wolpe, to encourage, as it says on their website, “women and girls to transcend gender and cultural differences, and embrace a broader awareness of their enormous capabilities not only on the stage, but in all areas of their lives…” and “to provide a strong and positive example of an all-female, multi-cultural collaboration that is innovative, professional, and creative.”
It has produced all female, multi cultural productions of many of Shakespeare’s plays, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter’s Tale, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Measure for Measure, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth – I’ve probably left some out – and Hamlet, which I had the good fortune to see at the Odyssey last year.
I was knocked out by the production. The set and lighting were superb – I jumped when the Ghost appeared out of nowhere. The costumes were excellent. But it was the performances that blew me away.
You forgot that the roles were played by women. (Two women behind me whispered, “I can’t tell, can you?” The other said, “Look at their hands. You have to look at their hands.”) Every one was convincing and right in the moment. Chastity Dotson’s Ophelia was the best I’ve seen, fresh and heartbreaking. Natsuko Ohama as Polonoius got every laugh.
Lisa Wolpe’s Hamlet moved me to tears. Every line was crystal clear and spoken to convey meaning and emotion. I’ve heard so many plummy readings of “To be or not to be,” in which the words come drippingly off the tongue and you can sense the actor’s delight in the sound of his own voice but when Lisa sat down and said, “To be or not to be,” I listened. I heard a person working through his thoughts, weighing his options, torn and tormented. But quiet about it.
And the physical work knocked me out. Almost literally. I was in the front row and the swordplay was fierce and fast close to my feet. Very exciting.
And how marvelous, I thought, that women would have the opportunity to play some of the best characters ever written and to speak that glorious language. I knew that Sarah Bernhardt had played Hamlet, and Helen Mirren, Prospero, but I don’t know if I’ve heard of another Shakespeare company composed entirely of women.
So I’ve been waiting for the next production. When I didn’t see one announced, I emailed Lisa Wolpe. A busy woman, who directs, teaches, acts, has studied at the Globe Theatre and who also has a one woman show called Shakespeare And The Alchemy of Gender, and a documentary on the group in the works, she said that Hamlet may be her last production in L.A.
I hope not. If there is one, I’ll be there.
To see a rehearsal of Hamlet, go to http://youtu.be/buUv-UQNfdg.