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Schooled in Passion: Packer's "Women of Will" at Shake & Co.

By Nichole Dupont

Packer and Gore make sparks and quips during "Women of Will"

LENOX, Mass. - I'll be the first to admit it, I'm a feminist. Apparently, because this is a loaded word, saying one is a feminist could be a career-ender, unless you're Tina Packer. When it comes to William and his "written" ladies, Packer, who is one of the founding artistic directors of Shakespeare and Company, takes no prisoners. Not even Joan of Arc can escape the astute, passionate and almost professorial obersvations of a woman who, when it comes to the bard, clearly knows and loves her stuff.

Now through July 10 at the Bernstein Theatre, Shakespeare and Company is presenting "Women of Will, The Complete Journey: Parts I-V." The performances, for lack of a better, more inclusive term, represent a culmination of Packer's years of piecing together the lives, actions and projections of the female characters in Shakespeare's plays, beginning with his early comedies and ending with "Henry VIII." Each part is two hours long (roughly) and carries a theme with it--Part 1: The Warrior Women, From Violence to Negotiation, Part II: The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual: New Knowledge, Part III: Living Underground, or Dying to Tell the Truth, Part IV: Chaos is Come Again, the Lion Eats the Wolf and Part V: The Maiden Phoenix: The Daughter Redeems the Father.

Recently, I attended the opening of "The Warrior Women," in which Packer and her equally charming sidekick, and I daresay partner in crime, Nigel Gore, took the audience on a roller-coaster ride of passion, violence, and, of course, women.
  
"Warrior Women" opened with a scene from "The Taming of the Shrew," played two ways. The first rendition presents Katherine (the shrew) as a willful woman who is just barely, but violently subdued by her controlling husband, Petruchio. Gore, with his hands around Packer's neck, is a terrifying presence as he commands his "wife" to say that the sun is the moon and the moon is the sun in order to gain her complete obedience, which is only won by her fear and resignation to his unrelenting abuse. In that same scene, Packer changes her "mood" and the mood of Katherine to display a woman gone mad from sleeplessness and starvation, tactics which Petruchio used to "tame" his headstrong wife. She delivers the same monologue as in the previous scene, but now, it is clear, that the transformation is complete and that Katherine, her voice flip-flopping between low moans and high coquettish assents, has been utterly broken and will be a madwoman until her death. Yet, despite this broken insanity, Gore as Petruchio does emit a certain fear at this revelation. This fear, which is also felt by the audience, is vastly different from his bulldoggish, arrogant portrayal in the first rendition of the scene. 
  
And so it went from scene to scene. I often found myself gripping my chair inadvertantly as Packer (who was easily able to transition from a 16-year-old maid to a religious fanatic to a vengeful mother) and Gore tested the boundaries of Shakespeare's words and women. These rivoting scenes were interjected with academic commentary (note, I did not say dry commentary, this is Tina Packer we are talking about) as well as the playful banter between the two performers, a relationship that clearly has emerged from several decades of friendship and craft (and bawdiness, of course). The instability of Shakespeare's women as he presented them, be it in a comedy, a tragedy, or even a historical, is blatantly obvious. However, it takes an expert mind like Packer's to unravel the nuances of negotiation, sexuality and violence in the lives of the "Warrior Women," and this is only Part I...

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