Feb 9, 2012
A perfect storm
“Let me imagine … what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf imagined this scenario in an essay about gender inequality in the Elizabethan era. In context, she was decrying the opportunities denied women of the time, detailing how the hypothetical Judith would have been stifled at every turn had she set out to develop and express a gift for writing. With society’s restrictions on women (such as a lack of access to formal education) Woolf posits that it would’ve been impossible for Judith to develop her gift and produce fiction as brilliant as her brother’s.
Louisiana playwright Cody Daigle took that one sentence and put it in his own context. What if Shakespeare did have a wonderfully gifted sister named Judith? And what if she could write as brilliantly as he?
The result is "William and Judith," a story of upturned gender politics and creative intrigue amid the writing of Shakespeare’s "The Tempest." Playhouse Tulsa will stage "William and Judith" in conjunction with "The Tempest" in alternating performances, a pairing the company has dubbed "The Storm Repertory."
Daigle wrote the play at the behest of Playhouse Tulsa artistic director Chris Crawford and associate artistic director Courtneay Sanders after the three collaborated on a play last year.
“They asked me if I had anything I wanted to produce,” Daigle says. “I told them I had this idea and that I’d start working on it. A year later, here we are, producing it. This play exists because of Chris and Courtneay.”
The play imagines the later years of William Shakespeare (Crawford) as his sister Judith (Sanders) comes to live with him after running away from an arranged marriage. As William’s creative juices are running dry, Judith’s are just beginning to flow. When Richard Burbidge (Daigle) demands a new play, William commits an act of creative thievery that could destroy his career as well as his family.
Although Daigle took liberties with Woolf’s scenario, the examination of gender inequality in Elizabethan society remains the thrust of the narrative.
“My hope was to examine the roles of women in that era and what it would be like to introduce a woman into that society with an ambitious, contemporary sensibility,” Daigle says.
Most of the cast of "William and Judith" will also populate the cast of "The Tempest," Shakespeare’s beloved tragicomedy about the magical Prospero, cheated out of his birthright as Duke of Milan and stranded on a deserted island with his daughter Miranda.
Daigle says it’s a treat to prepare for both plays at the same time.
“Parts of 'The Tempest' appear in 'William and Judith,' but completely out of context of the actual play itself,” he says. “It’s fun to then hear those passages in the context of Shakespeare’s story.”
Audiences will be treated to classic Shakespeare, accompanied by a clever companion piece commissioned especially for Playhouse Tulsa. A perfect storm, indeed.
Performances of "William and Judith" and "The Tempest" will alternate from Feb. 10 to Feb. 18. Click here to see times and buy tickets.