note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
Adapted from works by William Shakespeare
and Performed by Judith Austin and Laura Yosowitz
Directed by Louis E. Roberts
Technical Director Richard Archer
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Diane Almeida
Young Man....Richard LaFrance
The word "adapted" is very important here, because these eight scenes are never done straight. Even when only one play is used, Judith Austin and Laura Yosowitz have done careful cut-and-paste jobs so that each scene becomes a whole new playlet leaning on Shakespeare's words. Judith plays Lady Macbeth, for instance, but Laura plays Lady Macbeth's subconscious. In her first scene, reading a letter from Macbeth, the lines are divided into outer and inner selves. Later, Macbeth's lines become intertwined with her own, playing out murder and aftermath as though in the memory of a woman whose mind is coming unstuck.
The music and the rhythms of the original plays are most obvious here. When Judith plays a creditable Richard III to Laura's Lady Anne, the quick he-says-she-says exchanges of word-play are a fast a sparring-match of wooing versus insult. Judith's solo turn is Constance's cry from the all but forgotten "King John" while Laura combines Isabella's plea for mercy from "Measure for Measure" with the "Quality of mercy" speech from "The Merchant of Venice". The pair begin the second half with an exchange titled "She loves him; she loves him not" which melds together bits from "Two Gentlemen of Verona" "Merchant of Venice" and "Troilus and Cressida" in which first a rose and then a love-letter get shredded and reconstructed and Laura literally wallows in the jigsawed love-words scattered about the floor.
These sections, with many costume changes and a few quick props, are rooted in the timeless world which Shakespeare most often evokes, and they are by far the most successful bits on the program. Two attempts at broad comedy go far over the top --- or at least did opening night. The pair have set bits from "Midsummer" in a salon called "Puck's Palace" overseen by high-camp Puck as the hairdresser played joyously by Robert Stroscio. Hermia and Helena sit dishing each other in thick Valley-girl accents, answering the blandishments of absent Demetrius and Lysander on their hand-held cell phones. The skit is cute, though the accents are so thick they're schtick. Even less successful, and much broader, is a hillbilly knock-off of comic exchanges out of three plays about virginity that has Laura's hips swathed in chains, a padlock dangling at her crotch, while Judith mimes an exaggerated eight-month pregnancy. Again, the slapstick is so exaggerated it insults rather than illuminating the texts.
The two women are strong, and excellently matched and meshed, taking most of the lines quickly yet clearly and playing as much with the audience as with each other. The program is an excellent introduction to the themes and the melodies of Shakespeare, as well as to bits from some plays that are rarely done. It's difficult to tell how much the actor/adapters or their Director Louis E. Roberts has to do with the excellent shape of "The Tango of Richard and Anne" or the egregious misshape of "Man and The Virgin". Certainly a more objective director would caution "tone down the comedy!" as much out of love for the performers as for the words. It would be interesting to see what changes as these women's dialogues engage in dialog with their audience.