The herstory plays

Judith's Story

By Betty Jane Isquith
Directed by Barbara Pitcher
American Theater of Actors
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

All Judith wants is affection and attention from her father. On the occasion of her father's funeral, she shares her story and her mixed feelings with the audience. What makes her story different, however, is that her father was William Shakespeare.

Well, maybe her story isn't so different. She had a distant father who found more excitement with his mistresses than his wife; there's her cold, bitter mother who knows her husband doesn't love her; and there's the fact that her twin brother is dead, and she must live with the knowledge that "the wrong twin died." Judith's Story, however, doesn't do much with these facts, all apparently drawn from what is known about Shakespeare's life. This is the stuff of drama, but it is recounted in a style that does little justice to the characters or their plight.

The production was well-mounted, and the large cast generally did well. But there's a contemporary quality to the writing that is at odds with the time period depicted. "I must concentrate on my new play Cymbeline," Will says, denying his grief on the death of his son. "What are you babbling about now?" Anne snipes at Judith. "Your heroines all die and the fathers are all mean," young Judith yells at her father. Well, she's right about that, but playwright Betty Jane Isquith does little to develop that honest statement. Too much of the play is more on the order of constantly repeating that Will's plays are the result of his genius, without showing the character to embody the statement.

Much of the large cast made strong impressions in fairly small parts: as Will's mistresses, Tara Orr, Sheila Willis, and Stacey Leigh Ivey went far toward explaining his obsessions; also fine were Ginny Paynter and the precocious Allison Siko as the young daughters who must deal with their father's disappointment. Dean Strober as a prodigious belcher, Rhonda Dodd, and Robert Hess also found their marks. As the older Judith, Laura Leblanc was an imposing presence, as was Teresa Kelsey as the steely Anne Hathaway. David Tillistrand as Shakespeare had a harder time of it, faced with lines like "I'm writing what I always write - human nature."

Although the play often left the actors drifting, its production was good in many respects. Playing areas were clearly delineated by the addition of a table (for a tavern), or a bench (for an assignation bed), or a blanket (for a picnic/seduction). There was a stained glass window that looked out over the action, which glowed when it was lit from behind. And although uncredited, the costumes were outstanding. As reminders of the Elizabethan setting, the window and clothes only underscored the hollow between the writing and the production.

Judith's final appraisal of her life gives clues to what Judith's Story might have been. She detests her bitter, angry mother and realizes that she has modeled her life after the only strong women she knew -- her father's mistresses. Women have no choices, Anne berates her daughters, but Judith has made hers. Unfortunately, this epiphany is not dramatized, only announced. Shakespeare and Freud is a heady mixture, but the possibilities are not realized here. "We can't always have what we want," a character in Judith's Story states. Exactly.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1

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Copyright 1997 David Mackler