LENOX -- WAM Theatre’s Fresh Takes play reading series is designed to offer "new and reimagined works that tell women’s stories." So say WAM artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven and the series’ curator, WAM artistic associate Kelly Galvin.
"Reimagined" is the word for Sunday’s Fresh Takes presentation at No. 6 Roastery and Café in West Stockbridge -- William Shakespeare’s "Measure For Measure," a dark comedy about corruption, abuse of power and moral hypocrisy.
Not only has Shakespeare’s 1604 play been trimmed for this reading, it is being performed by an all-female cast -- Suzanne Ankrum, Ariel Bock, Barby Cardillo, Dana Harrison, Tod Randolph and van Ginhoven. Also in the cast are Jacinthe G. Connor, Emma Dweck, Catherine Santino and Josephine M. Wilson.
"Measure For Measure" is set in motion when Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, steps down from his position and disguises himself as a friar so he can move freely among his people and observe first-hand how they live. He turns his throne over to his puritannic deputy, Angelo, who begins imposing his morally constrained view of the world on the citizenry. Among his first acts is the arrest of and imposition of the death penalty against a young man named Claudio for violation of a little-known and even less applied anti-fornication law. When Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novitiate at a nunnery, pleads for her brother’s life, the lustful Angelo consents but only if she will sleep with him which, despite Claudio’s fervent entreaties, she refuses to do.
"I felt this wouldn’t be such a cliché obvious choice of material (for an all-female reading,)" van Ginhoven said during a recent interview, at which she was joined by Galvin, the reading’s director Jenna Ware, and cast members Harrison and Bock.
"I wanted to create an opportunity for these strong women actors in the Berkshires. I felt this play is ideal."
"It really is a unique choice for an all-female cast," said Harrison, "because of the issues Isabella faces and that women of today face in government and on college campuses."
Galvin, who did the adaptation, said she’s always been interested in what happens to Isabella and how she responds to the pressures placed upon her.
"I have heard stories from friends of mine about sexual power issues with professors." she said.
"This play has always repulsed me," said Bock, who is playing the Duke of Vienna. "As a woman, the first thing I experience, right from birth, is my body. For me, this play is about a woman’s body; who owns that body and how, as a woman, you assert ownership of your body in a power struggle with men [in positions of authority]."
The fact that all the roles are being played by women is no gimmick, say van Ginhoven, Galvin and Ware. The men in this "Measure For Measure" are still men. Their names, their gender don’t change.
"Women who are suitable for any role in Shakespeare should be able to play men. You find an actor that is good for the role and you cast them in it," Ware said.
"We are in the world of people speaking the truth. If you can make your [character’s] desires, feelings known, believable, that’s all that matters. I just want to see the play. It doesn’t matter if the role is played by a woman."
"[This project] is an intellectual exercise," van Ginhoven said. "We want to create a conversation with the audience. That’s what interests me."