Monday, July 17, 2017

Theater RED presents "The Wayward Women"

A new Elizabethan comedy now playing in Milwaukee

Whoever heard of a new Elizabethan comedy? Maybe there are scads out there playing the worlds' stages, but I hadn't come across one until Theater RED's production of Jared McDaris' The Wayward Women. Although it's a new play, the lines are written in verse, and so the show sounds like something straight outta Shakespeare. 

The play is also performed in Original Practices Shakespeare. That is, as it would have been performed in Shakespeare's day, with actors using the audience as part of the story, creating a wholly immersive experience that's a hoot to behold. 

Such Shakespearean structure perfectly befits the story of The Wayward Women, which echoes the types of plot-lines you might find in works like The Twelfth Night. In McDaris' pastoral comedy, two Swiss men — the noble Cordelius and his servant Julian — are marooned on the island of Amosa after being banished by Cordelius' father. It just so happens that, on this island, women rule. 

We meet a cast of female characters, the two central being the quarreling Dame Anu and Dame Grendela. These ladies reside at opposite ends of the moral scale — "protestations vs. molestations." In an effort to force these two to get over themselves and maintain peace, the Duchess entrusts the castaways (one now disguised as a woman) to the Dames' care, and forbids the pious Anu and bawdy Grendela to look upon each other, under penalty of death. 

Long story short, the undisguised castaway Cordelius becomes the object of much affection for these two warring women, while the dress-wearing Julian pines for Dame Grendela's squire, Aquiline. The tale is one that feels familiar in a lot of ways (which helps when trying to navigate a new play written in verse — bring your thinking caps!), while at the same time turns such stories on their head. 

Like I said, women rule on this island. When Cordelius boasts about his accomplishments in battle and his relation to the king of Switzerland, the ladies of Amosa burst into hysterics and utter bewilderment at the thought of a land run by men — and it's great fun to watch! 

The women behind these wordy roles at Theater RED never back down from the challenge of verse, delivering lines with confidence, gusto, and complete commitment to their characters' motivations — even when those motivations are a bit cartoonish or melodramatic, in that delightfully Shakespearean way. 

A shoutout to director Christopher Elst for using the whole of the Alchemist Theatre to stage The Wayward Women — a touch that goes hand-in-hand with Original Practices Shakespeare. At one point, Dame Grendela sat down right next to me in an open aisle seat to heckle her on-stage opponent and plot her mischief; it made me feel like one of her cohorts. 

Finally, I simply have to sing the praises of Theatre RED's founders Marcee Doherty-Else and Christopher Elst, whose three-pillar mission is one that will keep me coming back for more. Their first pillar supports substantial roles for women, while the second promotes new playwrights — both evident in their choice of The Wayward Women. The third seeks to help artists grow their craft; this time, Theater RED provided their actors with training in verse. 

Theater RED's motivations are certainly creating quite a buzz in Milwaukee. I've told many people about my experience at The Wayward Women only to hear them say some variation of "Yes, I've heard of Theater RED – that's so cool!" Well friends, you can come out to support this wonderful theater and these pillars we so admire now through July 22nd at the Alchemist Theatre

Information and tickets at

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