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January 30: Horace - Shakespeare Theatre Company ReDiscovery Reading.

Corneille tragedy about divided loyalties and dangers of nationalism, generally seen through female pov. I know, right? Neoclassical, 17th century French verse drama. One, modern English language adaptations kill off the rhyme scheme so these sound better to an ear accustomed to Shakespearean tragedy. Two, since it's based on an incident in Livy, to maintain the unity of place, all the bloody stuff has to happen offstage and therefore there are more speeches from observers, who in this story are women. Rome is at war with neighbouring Alba, which has been an ally for so long there are hundreds of intermarried families. The story follows the disintegration of one of those families thanks to this war and the method by which it was eventually won by Rome. Apparently written as a fuck you to Richelieu, it ends up being a meditation on how women are most screwed over when nationalist politics takes control - when nationalism is not a force, you can marry a foreigner, but as soon as war comes, your father will praise your brother for murdering you for being sad that your foreign fiancé was killed. So that was a cheery one.

February 2: Mack, Beth - Keegan Theatre

Modern remix of Macbeth, set in the tech industry. Some interesting ideas - nobody would do something a overt and messy as murder anymore, so Mack and his wife Beth conspire to get Duncan arrested for statutory rape and distribution of child pornography. As you can imagine from the source material, this works to sideline the man in charge and put Mack at the top, but it really goes poorly in the long run to where there's an actual body count by the end. A world premiere and could still use some editing, but Beth is awesome, it actually tries to deal with the Macbeths not having children, and the witches are fantastic. The witches are a group of female geeks who spend all their time hanging out in the sandwich shop on the ground floor of Mack's building for the free wifi. They are young, follow food trucks on twitter, horribly vindictive to the poor tamale lady, and possibly guilty of insider trading if they dump the stock they acquired in the IPO after Mack took over the company since they are intimate witnesses to the bloody fall out. It helps that one of them is Tyasia Velines, who totally stole the show in Stage Kiss at Round House a couple seasons back as the constantly annoyed teenage daughter.

February 3: As You Like It - Folger Shakespeare

Perfectly charming production, and Antoinette Robinson steals the show as Celia, but I feel like I've already had the modern-dress production of my dreams, the all-female cast at Center Stage in Baltimore. I adore Tom Story, but Angela Reed is the Jaques of my heart. Great actors should play great roles, sure, but you will never find the next Angela Reed without auditioning Angela Reed. Nothing in Jaques makes it a male role. This production had female Lebeau and female Amiens - ensemble stuff that's pretty common these days for modern dress. But the showy stuff - "all the world's a stage" - keeps defaulting male because Shakespeare's default was male. When you have an all male company to work with, you choose to make characters women. When you can audition anyone you like, and you're letting half the refugees in the forest be female, why are you still limiting yourself? This is the real structural issue in casting classics. Lead and featured roles are starting to go colourblind on a regular basis, but rarely is gender considered. I'm not even calling out Gayle Taylor Upchurch or Folger Shakespeare; I'm merely weirdly disappointed that Tom Story, whom I adore, is fine as Jaques but Angela Reed is the one true Jaques of my heart the way Andy Mientus is the one true Hanschen. And I would not know this if Kwame Kwei-Armah had not deliberately booked an all female production.

Anyway, Upchurch's production was fine. Solid. Enjoyable. Does everything it needs to. But that's it. Everything it needs to. It doesn't really transcend. And that's fine. It is a solid production. But when Antoinette Robinson's Celia is more compelling than Lindsey Alexandra Carter's Rosalind, because she's savvy and rational and not the cute fem in their relationship, the balance is a little different and calls out the ways in which the rest of the production is normal and solid. I had a perfectly nice time. I enjoyed myself and do not feel my money was wasted. But I'm becoming more and more aware of the limits of defaults.

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Mme Bahorel

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