Shakespeare’s Woman in Her Infinite Variety is a play about the condition of women that was born out of necessity.
Every year, the Dawson College theatre program’s graduating third-year students present three performances. One is always a Shakespeare play.
This year’s class was a bit of a dilemma, with a ratio of 14 female students to 9 male students. It was going to be difficult to cast a Shakespeare play, as the Bard’s works were initially staged when women weren’t allowed to perform in public.
But director Victor Knight found a way around this gender constraint: adapt the best women characters and their scenes, and stitch them together to create Her Infinite Variety. Knight and his co-writer Frederick Ward have taken scenes from Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and Antony and Cleopatra to create a literary mixtape of Shakespeare’s women’s greatest hits.
The acting in this roll call of great female characters is even, but Katy Breier as Ophelia was a stand-out. She was captivating as the heroine who sinks into despair and insanity. Stephanie von Roretz was also good as Twelfth Night’s Viola. The men matched the women’s performances, especially Steve Briseboise and Jimmy Karamanis, who, with three roles apiece, were all over the production.
The overall aesthetic of the show had to be versatile to adapt for a variety of different locales. Layers of opera and classical music accompanied lighting that evoked both dark castles and the sun-dappled countryside.
The costumes, designed by Elizabeth Cognard, were richly tailored to a variety of time periods: Princess Anne from Richard III was dressed in a Tudor mourning outfit, and Shylock was costumed like a burgher from the 1500s. One challenge with Her Infinite Variety is that it can be tricky to follow. The audience was constantly dropped from the middle of one story into the next. Though one character briefly explains the scene to the audience at the beginning, it can be hard to follow a brand new storyline if you’re not too familiar with Shakespeare’s works. People who needed Cole’s Notes to understand The Bard’s works in high school, will need a whole bunch of them for this play.
Her Infinite Variety makes a statement on the condition of women in Shakespeare’s time. The female characters who dress like men, like Viola and Rosalind, are able to express themselves, fall in love and overall, have a great time. But without a male guise, they are victims, like poor Ophelia, Desdemona, and Anne. And Lady Macbeth is eventually punished for being ambitious. It was interesting that the final scene is one of domestic violence, where Desdemona is killed by her husband Othello. Knight himself explained that the final scene illustrates some women are still victims today.
This year of Dawson students did a fine job, but it would be nice to see another theatre troupe put on this show, so that it reaches a wider audience.
Shakespeare’s Women In Her Infinite Variety is at Dawson’s New Theatre Nov. 26 to 28 at 8 p.m., 2000 Atwater. 10$, 8$ for students. 514-931-5000.