Sunday, November 27, 2022

Fringe Review: Thy Name is Woman

Who: Into the Abyss Productions
What: Thy Name is Woman
Length: 40 minutes
Where: Theatre Aquarius Studio (190 King William Street)
When: July 21-31 as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival
Tickets: $12 + $1.75 fee at https://boxoffice.hftco.ca/event/866:600/

As far as Juliet is concerned, this play begins at the end. The first image presented in Thy Name Is Woman is that of the star-crossed lover in her tomb, raising a knife, and speaking her final lines. Juliet is interrupted, however, by an interloper. Lady Macbeth, aware of the unreal nature of the theatre world, bursts into the scene, intent on stopping Juliet’s knife. The ensuing conversation they have forms the bulk of Thy Name is Woman.

There are clear efforts made to remind the audience of the time and place of this production- specifically, Shakespearean England, and Juliet’s tomb. The actors wear white dresses, which look appropriate to the period and give a ghostly effect to a space otherwise only populated by Romeo’s cooling corpse, concealed beneath a covering for the duration of the show.

The sparseness creates a nebulous space, which is eerie, and befitting of the funereal atmosphere of the play. This liminal quality is extended by earnest performances and a solid sound design.

The show explores Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscious – she wants to stop Juliet from killing herself. It also tells of a world where women are buffeted by the desires and whims of men, and touches on the ideas of love and fate. There’s a lot packed in a short time.

The aspirations of the script, created as devised theatre by the director (Diego Blanco Galindo) and performers (Asenia Lyall/Juliet, and Holly Hebert/Lady Macbeth), sometimes come across as overambitious for what is portrayed onstage. Lady MacBeth wants to prevent Juliet from dying to atone for her own sins- but Juliet’s goals are a little less clear. Without knowing what the character motivation is, it is difficult to understand if they are receiving what they want (or not), and if the conclusion is really satisfying. This clarity becomes increasingly lost as the play continues, and stagnates the narrative for some time.

Even when the proverbial wheels are spinning onstage, the writing is still sharp. The collective creators have done a good job of giving us natural-sounding dialogue that doesn’t sound too “modern”, so they always seem like Shakespeare’s characters, even when not speaking in iambic pentameter. They also quote the Bard’s texts several times throughout, and when they do, they do it well. These actors are comfortable with Shakespearean language, and the lines are always delicious.

The play is filled with other fine moments, as well, like Juliet and Lady Macbeth both describing love. Each have different takes on it, a “naïve” version from Juliet and a more considered idea from Lady Macbeth, but what’s really special is that they don’t have Lady Macbeth cynically dismiss love. No, she knows love, and that’s a great showcase of the multifaceted aspects of her character.

The feminist angle is reasonably well-done, but feels a bit “standard-issue”. Numerous stories, plays and essays have investigated the relative fairness or unfairness with which Shakespeare’s leading ladies, or women in the past generally, have been treated. It’s not that it’s badly done here, just that it doesn’t feel as fresh.

There’s great depth to be explored within this production that would potentially benefit from repeated viewings to appreciate the subtle themes referenced and all the nuanced moments between the actors – energetic and powerful as they are.

Ryan M. Sero
Ryan M. Sero
Ryan M. Sero is a writer, among many other things, and has a long, loving history with Hamilton's theatre scene in particular. He is the artistic director of Make Art Theatre. He does what he does for Jody, Pippa, Emmett, Vienna, and Jude.

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