Press - She Speaks!

...a fluid-flowing, smoothly-moving evening’s entertainment

Amanda N. Gunther


the Rudes really know how to have fun

a feast for fans of The Bard

She Speaks at The Rude Mechanicals

by Amanda N. Gunther, Theatrebloom

What fire is in my ears? All of Shakespeare’s women in one show? Can it be so? Well, that might be a bit absurd, even for The Rude Mechanicals, but they do come close, featuring a varied assortment of all of the Bard’s leading ladies in just shy of two hours’ stage traffic! Conceived and Directed by Leanne G. Stump, this selection of scenes showcases some of the finer moments of Shakespeare’s female characters, giving the audience a sampling of how the ladies fit into the comedies, the histories, and the tragedies that are historically well known and still being produced with great frequency today.

Liana Olear (left) as Beatrice, Christine Evangelista (center) as Ursula and Claudia Bach (right) as Hero in Much Ado About NothingAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Liana Olear (left) as Beatrice, Christine Evangelista (center) as Ursula and Claudia Bach (right) as Hero in Much Ado About Nothing

Leanne G. Stump has taken a good variety of characters from various scenes and plays and blended them together into a fluid-flowing, smoothly-moving evening’s entertainment. Her praises should be loudly sung for her ability to pair scenes together; the most glowing example of this being the segment of the evening entitled “Why are you thus alone?” which features Portia of Julius Caesar, Lady Kate Percy of Henry IV and Brutus as well as Hotspur from each of the aforementioned plays respectively. Only Brutus and Hotspur are played by the same performer (John Wallis) simultaneously, while Portia and Lady Percy engage in their scene alongside their men. Stump has several moments like this throughout the evening that poetically beautiful and a ripe justification of how similar Shakespeare’s plotlines were.

There falls only one real question over Stump’s scenic selection, as the majority of the scenes showcase strong female characters in their most critical moments, and although some of the scenes do include male characters, they are not the focus of the scene. This, however, is not true for the Romeo & Juliet scene included under the “Tragedies” section of the evening. While the scene is no doubt a good one, with Peter Eichman bellowing away as Lord Capulet, the scene’s focus is not on Juliet (Claudia Bach) or Lady Capulet (Liana Olear) but rather the bellowing monster that is Juliet’s father. Three other scenes featuring Lady Capulet, Juliet, and the Nurse (or some combination thereof) immediately come to mind for this scene’s replacement in the evening’s entertainment, or perhaps even taking a different selection from a different tragedy would be another option as Romeo and Juliet has a scene featured during “The Lovers” section.

Stump is smart in her casting choices as well; she keeps consistency with characters who appear more than once, Liana Olear being a prime example as she appears as Beatrice both times that the leading lady of Much Ado is featured. Stump also pays a nod to The Rude Mechanicals by casting women in roles that they have played in full length productions performed by The Rudes (such examples include but are not limited to Stump herself playing Katherine opposite of Olear’s Alice for Henry V, and Jaki Demarest remounting her role as Lady Macbeth from Macbeth.) The wisely utilized epilogue from As You Like It comes into play to conclude the show; this is a fitting ending, and serves far better a show closer than the curious prologue from Antony and Cleopatra does as a show opener.

Allison McAlister (left) as Duchess of York, Jaki Demarest (center) as Queen Margaret, and Claudia Bach (right) as Queen Elizabeth in Richard IIIAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Allison McAlister (left) as Duchess of York, Jaki Demarest (center) as Queen Margaret, and Claudia Bach (right) as Queen Elizabeth in Richard III

The costumes and set are minimal, a simple skirt here or there to delineate femininity, chainmail armor for characters like Joan of Arc, and a few portraits of ladies of the time hung on the back wall; but what more else is needed when the primary focus of the performance is the women and their roles in these scenes? Joshua Engel serves as the show’s lighting designer, and at times Engel’s work is brilliant— the misty lighting for “The Weird Women” segment, which features the witches from Macbeth, Ariel from The Tempest, and Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the darkened shadows used during Lady Macbeth’s speech, which is a callback to the light and darkness concept from the show’s most recent inception with The Rudes— but at other times the lighting is vaguely distracting, like when the characters are wandering all around the stage to make full use the space but the lighting is only focused in the center. Ultimately, it’s not that big of a hang-up, but worth noting all the same because at times it really draws you into the text of what’s being spoken and creates atmospheric ambience and at other times it truly distracts from the importance of what’s being said.

Engel, who additionally serves as multiple sleazy men throughout the performance, gets to try his hand at playing braggadocio-based Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing and butt-kissing basic Betram of All’s Well that Ends Well. Playing along with three other actors who take up the roles of “all the men”, Engel makes himself the support to the scenes he’s in, rather than overtaking them as Shakespearean male characters are so often wont to do. John Wallis plays the aforementioned Brutus and Hotspur, simultaneous, which is well worthy of applause simply because he tackles to characters at once! Wallis also takes up the iconic young lover Romeo of Romeo and Juliet during “The Lovers” segment. The previously mentioned Peter Eichman, plays a physically doddering titular character from King Lear in addition to his Lord Capulet, while Patrick Stump takes up the responsibility of four male roles: Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew, the chamberlain of Henry VIII, Troilus of Troilus and Cressida, and Horatio from Hamlet. All four men do a decent job of complimenting and framing the women of the show.

Leanne Stump (left) as Katherine and Liana Olear (Right) as Alice in Henry VAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Leanne Stump (left) as Katherine and Liana Olear (Right) as Alice in Henry V

Liana Olear, mentioned as playing Beatrice from Much Ado as well as Alice from Henry V, as well as Lady Capulet and the Old Lady from Romeo and Juliet and Henry VIII respectively, is humorous in her portrayals, particularly that of Alice, when attempting to instruct Katherine (Leanne Stump) on the English for words of the body. Stump, who plays only in this scene and as Lady Percy during Henry IV, shows a drastic difference between the two characters, as the former is giggly and humorous, while the latter is wounded and soulful. Stump plays this scene as Lady Hotspur opposite both John Wallis and Claudia Bach, who takes up the role of the compassionately pleading Portia. Bach is also seen with a quick tongue in her head as Diana in the All’s Well that Ends Well scene, as Juliet— both times the character is featured, as Regan from King Lear and the tittering and plotting Hero from Much Ado About Nothing Act3 scene1.

Playing opposite of Bach’s humorous Hero, Christine Evangelista takes up the role of Ursula here and completes the comedic triangle of this scene. Evangelista also plays in the group scenes as Viola during “I Am the Man” (from Twelfth Night) and as Ariel during “Weird Women” (from The Tempest.) Once again paired with Bach, she is the Cressida to Bach’s Juliet in that blended scene of lovers and is featured as the gentle-tempered Cordelia, who gets her snapping bight at Bach’s Regan and the snarky Goneril (Ren Stone) during the King Lear scene.

Ren Stone (left) as Hermia and Lynda Clark (right) as Helena from A Midsummer Night's DreamAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Ren Stone (left) as Hermia and Lynda Clark (right) as Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Stone, who is a compact canon of intense energy, spitfire spirit, and panache enough to punch down a great wall, gives Goneril that loathsome edge, which makes her easy to despise. Featured as the saucy Anne Bullen in Henry VIII she touts her own here as well. But her hands down best role in the production is as the hellaciously driven Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Though she be but little, she is fierce; a truer statement would be hard to make when concerning Stone’s portrayal of the moxious maid. Pumped and ready to have at the throat of dear Helena (Lynda Clark), Stone starts the scene in the house and makes a ruckus ready to throw down with Clark’s Helena, that is well worthy of applause.

Jaki Demarest as Lady Macbeth in MacbethAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Jaki Demarest as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth

Waging a war of versatility against herself, Jaki Demarest takes up a great many iconic female roles in this performance, some of which she’s played previously in full-length productions conceived by The Rudes. Her Lady Macbeth’s “screw your courage to the sticking post” is riled and riddled with angry spirit, driving forth this infamous scene, and although Demarest is lit in darkness and shadow, her portrayal beams forth with a white hellfire. Performing a polar opposite role as Gertrude from Hamlet, there is a weary quality to her visage and her physicality when encountering the maddened Ophelia (Allison McAlister.) Ferocious, but in a much more haunting and sickening vein than that of Lady Macbeth, Demarest tackles Queen Margaret of Richard III, opposite both Claudia Bach and Allison McAlister as Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, respectively.

Allison McAlister as Joan of Arc in Henry VI Part 1Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Allison McAlister as Joan of Arc in Henry VI Part 1

McAlister, much like Stone and Demarest, is a fortitude of femininity in every imaginable stretch, showing an exceptional versatility between characters. As the crestfallen Duchess of York her emotional prowess is strongest and witnessed readily through her expressive face. As the ill-tempered and ready to spar Katharina from The Taming of the Shrew, she takes hold of the scene, in a surprisingly non-violent fashion, and steers it forward with unwavering command. Utterly dissolved into melancholic madness as Ophelia from the Hamlet scene, McAlister is yet again transformed and delivers a convincingly different character here. Taking the stage by storm in her solo feature during Henry VI Part I, she takes up Joan of Arc and delivers a truly sensational monologue that traverses an emotional gamut often reserved for the Bard’s tragedies. Using the epilogue from As You Like It, McAlister brings the show to a well-earned conclusion, and reminds the audience that women have voices too.

With so many different selections featured it would be a true shame to miss an opportunity to see Shakespeare’s finest women on display all over the course of one evening. You get the essence of their character without having to endure the entirety of their plays.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission

A Cornucopia of Word Magic

by Jim Link, Greenbelt News Review

Zounds! The ever redoubtable Rude Me chanicals are unrolling a sumptuous tapestry of dazzling Shakespearean excerpts, heaping the table with a nourishing smorgasbord of 16 women’s speeches and dialogues from the Bard’s teeming, fertile pen.

Be awed when Cleopatra (Lynda Clark) describes her dead Antony’s glorious qualities:
His face was as the heavens, and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course, and lighted
The little O, the earth ....
His legs bestrid the ocean, his rear’d arm
Crested the world ....

Be delighted when Beatrice (Liana Olear) is gulled by her two girlfriends Hero (Claudia Bach) and Ursula (Christine Evangelista) into thinking Benedick (Joshua Engel) loves her in Much Ado About Nothing.

Director Leanne Stump, whose inspired notion it was to gather together this exquisite chorus of female voices, cleverly gives us a “Shakespeare mashup” by combining the three witches of Macbeth (Jackie Demarest, Ren Stone, Alison McAlister), The Tempest’s Ariel (Christine Evangelista) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Titania (Lynda Clark) in one very plausible scene. Bizarre but effective.

Stump also cleverly matches the recorded music appropriately with the scenes. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition introduces the three witches; Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot introduces Beatrice and Benedick bickering wittily; Joan of Arc’s monologue (Alison McAlister) is introduced by Jimmy Morrison’s Light My Fire.

I could be wrong about that, but the point is the Rudes really know how to have fun.

Another clever mashup features Romeo (John Wallis) wooing Juliet (Claudia Bach) as Troilus (Patrick Stump) simultaneously woos Cressida (Christine Evanglista). Romeo and Juliet’s beautifully flirtatious dialogue constitutes a sonnet, by the way, and ends with Romeo very willingly returning his stolen kiss.

There’s so much more (Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III), but I was particularly impressed by Jacki Demarest’s fiery Lady Macbeth urging her husband to murder Duncan:

...I have given suck,and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done.

Also impressive is the woman talk between Desdemona (Lynda Clark) and her handmaid Emilia (Demarest again) from Othello. The innocent, entitled Desdemona declares that she could never be unfaithful to her husband, “not for all the world.” The shrewd, earthier Emilia responds very pragmatically. She wouldn’t commit adultery for gewgaws, gowns, petty gifts, “but for the whole world – why who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch?”

Because there are so many scenes – outdoors, indoors, battlefields, boudoirs – with so many costume changes, the set is necessarily minimal, spare, Stump explained. So the costumes hang on strategically placed clothes racks, right on stage to facilitate the swift pace of scene changes.The program credits no costume, but some extremely creative stylists have beautifully adorned the cast with an abundance of colorful scarves, shawls, regal capes, black leotards, gold ornamented vests, eyecatching tassels, beaucoup chapeaus.

Stump also mentioned that the play’s title is from Romeo’s blurt “She speaks!” when he spies Juliet on her balcony.

Assistant Director Liana Olear, producer Joshua Engel and the whole very capable Rude crew has done itself proud.

A lovely bonus is the art exhibition in the lobby featuring the tender, evanescent, elegiac work of the late Barbara Simon.

So hie thee thither to the Greenbelt Arts Center to get your Bard Kulchur fix on Fridays, June 9 and 16 at 8 p.m., Saturdays, June 10 and 17 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 11 at 2 p.m

Review: 'She Speaks' at The Rude Mechanicals

by William Powell , DC Metro Theatre Arts

William Shakespeare wrote memorable female characters, many of them laced within male-dominated plays. The Rude MechanicalsShe Speaks came about when director Leanne G. Stump realized that “If you strung the best female scenes together, they’d almost make their own show.” Neatly divided into comedies and histories, She Speaks explores scenes from Shakespeare’s most notable heroines. The cast, with Stump’s direction, has helped create a feast for fans of The Bard.

The breezy, thirty-minute first act began with a prologue from Antony and Cleopatra by Lynda Clark, in which Cleopatra spoke of women inhabiting “our world that equals theirs.”

From there, a subsection of the play entitled “I am the man,” which focused on Shakespeare’s women characters who had to dress as men, felt a bit rushed; in rapid succession, there were scenes from The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Of the scenes, Christine Evangelista’s Viola from Twelfth Night stood out.

A Midsummers Night’s Dream featured the combative Hermia and Helena, and Ren Stone and Clark running through the audience and out to the stage to continue their heated discourse. Act 2, Scene 1 from The Taming of the Shrew featured bickering between Petruchio and Katharine, who complained of Petruchio, “You crow like a craven.” Patrick Stump and Allison McAlister had a strong chemistry as Petruchio and Katharine. Act 3, Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing featured Hero (Claudia Bach), Ursula (Christine Evangelista) and Beatrice (Liana Olear) furtively manipulating the heartstrings of love.

In a subsection of the play entitled “Weird Women,” the show displayed scenes from The Scottish Play, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The three witches from The Scottish Play, played by the outstanding Jaki Demarest, Stone and McAlister was scary, and adumbrated a scene from that play in the second act.

Leanne Grace Stump and Liana Olear. Photo courtesy of The Rude Mechanicals.

In a second act that focused on Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, Act 3, Scene 4 of Henry V featured the cuteness of the French Princess Katherine (Director Stump, who well-affected a French accent) learning English from her attendant Alice (Olear). Act 5, Scene 3 of Henry VI, Part I achieved the height of drama as Joan of Arc (McAlister) prayed to “help me this once that France may get the field!”

Henry VIII, Act 2, Scene 3, conjured all the intrigue of Henry’s court in a few short minutes, thanks to Stone as Anne Bullen, Olear as Old Lady and Patrick Stump as Chamberlain. Richard III’s Act 4, Scene 4 heartbreakingly featured Queen Margaret (Demarest), Queen Elizabeth (Bach), and the Duchess of York (McAlister) as they grappled with the implications of rule under wicked King Richard. Demarest excelled in bringing pathos to that scene.

In an odd, but beautifully synchronized bit of staging, the subsection of the show entitled “The Lovers” featured interlacing scenes between Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida. When one character from Romeo and Juliet would deliver a line, the next line would come from Troilus and Cressida. Romeo was played by the talented John Wallis and Troilus by Patrick Stump. Cressida and Juliet were fabulously played by Evangelista and Bach respectively.

Demarest’s turn as Lady Macbeth was frightening. Even though the scene lasted a few minutes, it evoked every bit the fear and dread from the play it came from. The same was true for Act 1, Scene 1 of King Lear, in which Evangelista’s Cordelia, Lear’s “good” daughter, sadly intoned “my love is richer than my tongue.” Goneril (Stone) and Regan (Bach) were two-faced and evil, and Peter Eichman’s Lear was duped and on the way to a bad end.

Allison McAlister. Photo courtesy of The Rude Mechanicals.

McAlister was awesome as the mad Ophelia in Act 4, Scene 5 of Hamlet. Patrick Stump excelled as Horatio and Demarest powerfully brought Queen Gertrude to life. Romeo and Juliet’s Act 3, Scene 5 was dominated by Lord Capulet (Eichman), who during an argument with Juliet (Bach) commanded her to “speak not, reply not.”

Act 4, Scene 3 of Othello featured a touching scene between Emilia (Demarest) and the doomed Desdemona (Clark). McAlister’s monologue as Rosalind from As You Like It pointed out that “a good play needs no epilogue.”

I liked the use of a screen to project act and scene numbers, thanks to Lighting/Sound/Projection Operator Erin Nealer. Joshua Engel’s Lighting Design helped make many of the scenes dramatic and scary where appropriate. Costumes consisted of various hats and capes, with the actors wearing Rude Mechanical t-shirts underneath—red for the women and blue for the men (no costume designer was credited). She Speaks is an adeptly acted and directed string of Shakespeare’s enduring, woman-centered scenes, great for lovers of excellent stagecraft.