Off-Broadway Review: THE LAMENTABLE COMEDIE OF JANE ANGER, THAT CUNNING WOMAN, AND ALSO OF WILLY SHAKEFPEARE AND HIS PEASANT COMPANION, FRANCIS, YES AND ALSO OF ANNE HATHAWAY (ALSO A WOMAN) WHO TRIED VERY HARD (New Ohio Theatre)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on March 15, 2022

in Theater-New York

A NOT SO PLAIN JANE

Did you know that William Shakespeare was a narcissistic, whiny, pansexual, selfish, misogynistic, plagiarizing, womanizing fop? Scholars may debate the accuracy of this description but in playwright Talene Monahon’s riotous new comedic farce, The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard, the Bard more than fits this bill. Ms. Monahon has written a hilarious, fast-moving, quick-thinking comedy that has as much to say about today’s world as it does about life in London circa 1606. Under Jess Chayes’s expert direction, the play keeps moving as fast as Ms. Monahon’s writing tosses out new ideas, giving the feeling of watching one of those old-school plate-spinning acts where new plates are continually spun higher and higher but never crash to the ground.

Michael Urie & Ryan SpahnTalene Monahon & Michael Urie

Jane Anger herself, gloriously played by Amelia Workman, directly introduces the story to the audience. Ms. Workman assures us that she, as Jane Anger, is a real person. She plies many trades, one being that she can cure the Plague. For the Plague is raging in London at this time and Michael Urie’s uproariously over-the-top William Shakespeare is following Plague stay-at-home rules. He lives alone, except for his peasant companion, Ryan Spahn’s comically endearing and eager-to-please Francis.

Michael Urie & Ryan Spahn

Home is an upstairs London apartment only accessible by climbing an outside rainspout to the room’s sole window. Unfortunately, the building’s first floor has been sealed off due to Plague. And upstairs, William Shakespeare is blocked — both creatively and sexually. Francis willingly attempts any action to comfort Shakespeare, even taking the guise of a teenage boy (when he’s really almost forty)  who later eats a sticky pudding with really dubious frosting. Once Jane Anger enters via the room’s window, it’s soon revealed that she is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets and Shakespeare’s ex. She needs him to endorse a piece of writing she did in order to get it published. Shakespeare never reads Jane’s work, the idea of a woman writer being completely laughable to his superior sensibility. However, after some prodding by Jane, he agrees to grant her this favor but only if she first cures his writer’s block. Then an unwelcome surprise visit from Shakespeare’s estranged wife Anne Hathaway — whose looks, persona and emotional baggage bear a striking resemblance to movie star Anne Hathaway — kicks things into further high gear. Playwright Talene Monahon is hilariously cloying as the long-suffering Anne Hathaway and with her added presence secrets are revealed, insults hurled, promises broken and alliances redrawn. And Francis occasionally pops up to pester the audience into helping him succeed in his newfound acting career playing Cordella in King Leir (yes, you read that correctly).

Michael Urie, Ryan Spahn & Amelia Workman

The show is performed without a fourth wall, as was done in Shakespeare’s time. The actors and director make good use of this conceit with some of the play’s funniest and more poignant moments coming from direct address. The parallel situations of Plague and COVID-19 are not missed, including the 1606 social distancing practice of “ponying” where people are urged to keep the distance of a pony between them, even when inside. Many Shakespearean elements are also evident in Ms. Monahon’s script including a King (i.e., Shakespeare) who has lost his connection to the heavens, wily peasants, gender-switching teens, men who speak lies, women who speak truth, the establishment of order from chaos and a bloody body count.

Michael Urie, Talene Monahon, Ryan Spahn & Amelia Workman

With facile staging by Chayes and excellent fight choreography by Sean Michael Chin, this well-oiled ensemble does occasionally slow down for a well-earned breath. At these times, the audience is allowed to think on the deeper messaging of the script. Jane Anger was indeed a real person and she wrote a feminist text in 1589 entitled Protection for Women, excerpts from which are read during the performance. The pamphlet in part questions male dominance in the field of writing for, at that time, very few women were allowed to publish. It’s unfortunate how relevant Anger’s argument still is today. With Anger’s writing as inspiration, this performance interrogates the primacy of the male voice in writing/artistic creation and the efficacy of that standard. Monahon also questions the assumed universality of Shakespeare’s plays, the question of authorship, the misogynist undertones of some of the sonnets, the difficulty in holding unappealing aspects of a favored artist and the assigned place of women, both socially and artistically.

Ryan Spahn & Talene Monahon

In the last scene where some of these issues are on the forefront, the script does falter a bit. In the desire to provide an open-ended close to the play, that trajectory in this last scene gets a bit muddled. Maybe some additional clarity could be applied so the audience can leave the theater solely pondering Monahon’s provocative final question not, perhaps, a bit confused as to what the final scene meant.

Ryan Spahn, Michael Urie, Amelia Workman & Talene Monahon

The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER… is a very funny new production, currently performing at the New Ohio Theater in New York City. It offers excellent performances, physical comedy, witty wordplay, sight gags, sex, Anne Hathaway, feminist writing from 1589 and lots of blood. It’s a script Shakespeare himself might have written. Or possibly … Shakespeare herself.

Amelia Workman & Talene Monahon

photos by Valerie Terranova


Amelia Workman

Jane Anger, or The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard
Jennifer Campos productions
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
Mon & Wed-Friday at 7:30, Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 (running time 90 minutes)
ends on March 26, 2022
streams June 14 -26,2022 Tue-Fri- at 7, Sat & Sun at 5pm ET
tickets are $15.50 for a single view or $22.50 for a 48-hour rental, available Jane Anger

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