Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
Something is cooking at the ever so edgy and inventive La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre – Irina Brooks’ adaptation of “Shakespeare’s Sister” – and it is absolutely delicious.
Bloomsbury Group writer Virginia Woolf imagined the existence of Shakespeare’s sister while she was preparing a lecture on women and fiction, a somewhat ambiguous subject. Woolf wrote, “The title women and fiction might mean women and what they are like; or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them; or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together.”
Irina Brook’s redemptive and cathartic adaptation of Woolf’s lecture is a stimulating, precise, and provocative re-imagining of the text and provides a riveting portrait of five different women as they share deep personal feelings about what it means to be a woman and a mother and a writer. The definition of home morphs from simply providing a place of comfort for men and boys to a place for the pursuit of self-awareness.
The intriguing conversation is delivered as a lecture (as was the original) as the women prepare a communal meal, have tea, and drink wine in set designer Noelle Ginefri’s perfectly lit country kitchen. Vegetables are washed and sliced as secret thoughts are revealed: the stew simmers as sexually charged fantasies erupt. Clothes are carefully folded as the amazing insights into a woman’s mind are neatly put into place. These five women are authentic and honest as they reveal the contents of their souls, sing their song, touch the heart and allow the audience member to surround them with love.
Under Irina Brook’s inspired and perceptive direction, Nicole Ansari, Winsome Brown, Joan Juliet Buck, Sadie Jemmett, and Yibin Li become a kaleidoscopic composite of Virginia Woolf exemplifying that the “heat and violence of the poet” is evident in a woman’s body. “Shakespeare’s Sister” is a life-changing experience. Plan to stay for dance, merriment, and freshly-made vegetable soup seasoned –as is the production – just right.