Lisa Wolpe’s solo show Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender officially opens to the public at the Rose Playhouse on the 14th July and then runs until the 26th. However, I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the show as the opening of the series of Transhakespeare workshops I’m currently involved in at the moment as a dramaturg.
Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender is the first in a projected trilogy of plays, dealing with different aspects of Shakespeare. Transhakespeare will eventually become the second. This first aspect deals with personalizing Shakespeare.
The production took the form of a series of Shakespearean speeches interspersed with reflections from Lisa upon her past, particularly centred around her father. The extracts from Shakespeare are related to his story. So her father’s wartime experiences and status as a war hero are followed by Henry V’s speech to the town of Harfleur; the feeling of being utterly outcast in his own country and having his entire family murdered in the Holocaust is explored through Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes?”
Personally, I absolutely loved the piece. As an avid fan of cross-gender Shakespeare, Wolpe’s work with the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company has been of some interest to me for a while now. Set in the context of her recollections, new aspects of the speeches were made clear and her personal passion for Shakespeare was tangible. The Question and Answer session after the performance was just as interesting as the piece itself. The impact of cross-gender Shakespeare was discussed and how it affects the way in which an actor must interpret their role. So, for instance, when playing opposite a female Rosencratz or Gildenstein as a male Hamlet, the implication of a past romantic relationship can come through which naturally affects how furious he has to be at them for their deaths to make sense. It also affects how much he would be emotionally affected after they died.
Definitely a must-see for anyone interested in the development of Shakespeare productions in recent years and wanting to experience the work of one of the most notable proponents of cross-gender casting.