Review: Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, Lisa Wolpe’s solo show (Orpheum Annex, July 16)

Lisa Wolpe website

It’s taken me a long time to write this review of Lisa Wolpe’s solo show, “Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender”, although I’ve been talking to numerous people about the show. It was unexpectedly gut-wrenching, at the same time fascinating, thought-provoking, and in fact transcendent.

It’s a truism that being an actor involves putting oneself “out there” for public perusal, criticism, and consideration. Wolpe does this to an extreme.

The play opens with Wolpe, dressed in an androgynous outfit of black leggings and black tank top, enacting the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. How is it that Wolpe manages to play a convincing male role, and then immediately switch to a convincing female role? How can she play both sides with no break between them? It’s like magic, truly. I’m sure her techniques can be deconstructed (and I was trying to do so, because I couldn’t help it), but still–magic.

This site hints just slightly at what you can get from the show:

Wolpe interspersed the play with accounts from her childhood and adult life, with discussions of Elizabethan cosmology (alchemy is an important element of that), with her theories of Shakespeare, and more and more and more. I can’t do justice to the stories of her fascinating life, nor especially that of her father who turned out to be such a great influence on her. I’ve spilled out basically the entire show to people in person who want to hear it, but I feel shy to write it down, lest I get some significant details wrong. I just hope Vancouver gets another chance to see this show, and that I do. Here is one writer’s synopsis of the show, though:

To be honest, Shakespeare has never been my favorite playwright. I’d almost always choose Chekhov, or Ibsen, or Shaw, or many other playwrights first, even if I recognize the totality of Shakespeare’s genius. But Wolpe has made me rethink that position.

If it seems a bit unfair that you can’t see this show (and yes, that is unfair!), you can see Lisa Wolpe’s production of an all-female version of “A Winter’s Tale” (PAL Theatre until August 9), which I highly recommend too.

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