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PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Tina Packer, right, and Nigel Gore recreate scenes from Shakespeare's plays in PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Tina Packer, right, and Nigel Gore recreate scenes from Shakespeare's plays in "Women Of Will," through Aug. 3. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

Theater Review: Shakespeare's 'Women Of Will' unite at PSF

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

"Women Of Will," through Aug. 3, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, is a must-see for fans of The Bard.

"Women Of Will" is a series of scenes from William Shakespeare's plays, presented "more or less" in the chronological order of their publication, depicting some of his best-known leading female characters.

The female characters are portrayed by Tina Packer, who created the piece and provides commentary. The male roles are portrayed by Nigel Gore.

"William Of Will," in its Lehigh Valley debut at PSF prior to a planned national tour, is directed by Eric Tucker on a set mostly from "Two Gentlemen Of Verona," which ran June 18 - July 13, and "Cinderella," which concludes Aug. 2 at PSF. Packer and Gore are dressed casually, with a few costume accoutrements donned for the scenes.

Shakespeare's works are divided into five thematic segments. The scenes are augmented with music, sound effects and lighting.

Even if you're familiar with Shakespeare's plays, including the more popular works, Packer's presentation (approximately 2 1/2 hours, including intermission) should provide you with a deeper understanding of not only Shakespeare's female roles, but especially of the playwright.

Packer has a magnanimous, energetic stage presence, a smile ever-present in her voice. Her observations are witty and thought-provoking ("He didn't know he was Shakespeare," Packer emphasizes.).

It helps that Gore is an amiable, unflappable foil, with trenchant opinions of his own about The Bard's works ("The plays have some of the most unbelievable poems," Gore says.).

Packer and Gore are often a real hoot. Their playful rapport is delightful. British accents, breezy delivery and judicious dramatic pauses offer a breathtaking interpretation of Shakespeare's poetry.

Packer brings not only a female viewpoint, but a feminist perspective, with contemporary psychological attention paid to the "inner work" in Shakespeare's writing of female roles: Katherina, "The Taming Of The Shrew"; Joan Of Arc, "Henry VI"; Juliet, "Romeo and Juliet" ("Equal billing," Packer notes of Juliet of the title.); Desdemona, "Othello"; Rosalind, "As You Like It," and Lady Macbeth, "Macbeth," to name a few.

You will learn about Shakespeare's works relating to British history ("Wars Of The Roses," for example), royal genealogy, and the comings and goings of Kings and Queens (as well as a few unfortunate heads).

The impression of "Women Of Will" is that of a college or university graduate school level seminar, but one far more entertaining. Professors, teachers and students of The Bard take note.

"Women of Will," through Aug. 3; post-show actor talk-back July 31; "Savoring Shakespeare" dinner, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 3, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Schubert Theater, Labuda Center for The Performing Arts, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley. Tickets: pashakespeare.org, 610-282-WILL