WASHINGTON, DC – Jane Anger (Amelia Workman) steps out onto center stage to address the audience. She is fierce and determined to prove herself. And though she makes excuses for her past – lack of education, undesirable gender for a Jacobean Period playwright, oh, right, and a former prostitute – she has a lot to say about what she wants and in no uncertain terms. She’s a woman on a mission and we love her already. Did I mention she’s a bit of a sorceress?
Program notes tell us Jane Anger was a real person who wrote “Defense of Women” in 1589. She was a pioneer of the earliest of the women’s movements and an outspoken advocate of women’s rights.
Jane wants her due as a writer and she’s figured out how she’s going to get it. Buckle up, friends. In this zany, campy, off-the-wall hilarious sendup of Shakespeare (Michael Urie) stuck in a near fatal (okay, fatalistic) case of writer’s block, it’s Jane who has the final word. When she sneaks into his quarters by dressing up as a man, she presents him with a deal. Publish her play in exchange for a sex act. This upsets Shakespeare’s plan to write “King Leir,” despite the fact that she tells him it was written ten years before by Thomas Kidd. He is nonplussed, desperate for sex, and agrees to her proposal.
But The Plague has put a crimp in his style. He is quarantined with a newly hired, (by default) magnificently incompetent assistant, Francis (Ryan Spahn). As the delivery boy ,he was the only one available. They are confined to quarters and the Bard is going stir crazy. “They say it’s a new variant,” Shakespeare quips. And away we go with Shakespeare in full vaudevillian style and Francis his hapless sidekick. Think Laurel and Hardy.
Enter Anne Hathaway (the playwright Talene Monahon) who sneaks into the studio and befriends Jane. “Sometimes I wonder if my husband is dead, but then I read a review of one of his plays,” she deadpans. When Anne finds out the Dark Lady sonnets are not about her but about Jane, the two ladies conspire to get Jane’s play published.
By now everyone is rolling in the aisles with the wit and wisdom of Monahon (who plays Anne very well I might add). There are puns and pratfalls. And what other way is there to say it? Anything Urie is cast in is one for the books. We last saw him in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” in 2018. Then the same year in the role of “Hamlet” – both at STC.
There were buckets of blood in “Hamlet” and a fair share here. But now a bloody scene is played for laughs. Urie is brilliant. His acting chops, ranging widely from tragedy to comedy, are magnificent.
Highly recommended. Comedic gold!
With Geoffrey Besser as Plague Screecher/Peasant Woman.
Directed by Jessica Chayes; Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson; Costume Design by Andrea Hood; Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier.
Through January 8, 2023 at Shakespeare Theatre Company Klein Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.