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Shakespeare Theatre’s ‘Jane Anger’ was born of pandemic exasperation

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“Jane Anger,” the feminist revenge comedy now onstage on the Shakespeare Theatre Firm, is a sterling instance of pandemic-era ingenuity — which is ironic, contemplating it was born as a searing sendup of that very idea.

Playwright and actress Talene Monahon developed the play’s first iteration within the spring of 2020. Because the coronavirus pandemic raged and the theater group closed its curtains, Monahon discovered herself fixating on a typical assurance: “Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ throughout a pandemic, so take into consideration all the nice artwork that will probably be written throughout this time.”

“I feel it was meant to be encouraging and form of hopeful,” Monahon says. “On the time, I discovered it fairly annoying and form of a bizarre, capitalist [mind-set of] ‘produce, produce,’ regardless that persons are dying.”

So Monahon channeled that exasperation right into a play referred to as “Frankie and Will,” set in the course of the London plague of 1606, a few comically misogynist William Shakespeare penning “King Lear” whereas quarantining together with his bold apprentice. She then recruited the real-life couple Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn to star in a digital staging, introduced by New York’s MCC Theater in Could 2020 and streamed from the couple’s residence.

That summer time, Monahon went about fleshing out the brief two-hander right into a full-length play. Trying so as to add feminine voices to the farce, she wrote in fictionalized variations of two historic figures: the Sixteenth-century feminist author Jane Anger and Shakespeare’s enigmatic spouse, Anne Hathaway. Rebranded as “Jane Anger,” the play reworked from a male-centered buddy comedy into an absurdist depiction of feminine frustration.

After “Jane Anger” premiered earlier this year on the New Ohio Theatre, director Jess Chayes and the four-actor ensemble — Urie as Shakespeare, Spahn as his apprentice, Monahon as Hathaway and Amelia Workman as Anger — are again for an additional go-round at STC’s Klein Theatre by means of Jan. 8.

“[Monahon] turned that little humorous play that got here from this little cynical thought into this large, huge play — capital P Play — that’s truly about a whole lot of issues,” Urie says. “Each time we get to the top of the play, I’m touched, I get goose bumps and I tear up as a result of she’s made one thing new out of one thing outdated.”

Monahon wrote the complete model of “Jane Anger” whereas working as a nanny to her sister’s kids in the summertime of 2020, uncertain when or whether or not it could see the sunshine of day. She was researching Shakespeare’s contemporaries when she found Anger, an writer generally known as the primary lady to publish a full-length protection of womanhood in English: the 1589 pamphlet “Jane Anger, Her Safety for Ladies.”

“I used to be simply shocked that I’d by no means heard of it in all of my ladies and gender research courses in faculty and all of my Shakespeare research,” Monahon says. “I couldn’t consider that there was this wild, colourful, proto-feminist pamphlet that was printed throughout Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it felt like an thrilling alternative to put in writing a brand new character.”

From the archives: A Q&A with Michael Urie, who seems to be everywhere in D.C. this month

Though there have been discussions about persevering with “Jane Anger” nearly, by filming the play in an empty theater and streaming it to audiences at residence, Monahon says she’s grateful these alternatives by no means materialized. For one, she wrote the character of Anger as a fourth-wall-breaking protagonist who straight engages with the group. And comedy, Monahon and her collaborators level out, craves viewers suggestions.

“You don’t know what it’s till you place it in entrance of a stay viewers,” Spahn says. “To have that be disadvantaged for therefore a few years, with every little thing we have been doing digitally, you might by no means full the ultimate stage since you by no means had that info.”

By the point “Jane Anger” was about to premiere this previous February, the final piece of the puzzle was discovering Anger herself. Because the newcomer in a solid that includes three longtime pals, who had been engaged on the play for almost two years at that time, Workman concedes she joined the manufacturing with some unease. However she discovered Monahon was wanting to form the position round her strengths — a course of that has continued within the Shakespeare Theatre rehearsal corridor because the playwright punches up her script with topical gags.

“That collaborative spirit shouldn’t be all the time current,” Workman says. “Generally persons are like, ‘What do you assume?’ and so they don’t truly wish to know what you assume. Talene is the sort of author who’s like, ‘What do you assume? How do you’re feeling about that?’ and it reveals up within the play inside 5 minutes or the following day or in per week.”

With its gleefully anachronistic tone, nod-and-wink meta-humor and raunchy antics, “Jane Anger” makes for brazen counterprogramming because it follows a staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” at STC’s Harman Corridor and precedes a manufacturing of “King Lear” on the Klein Theatre in February. Its portrayal of Shakespeare himself, stricken with author’s block and a extreme case of narcissism, performs as notably irreverent at an organization adorned together with his identify.

“I’m utterly tickled and excited by the truth that this play comes between two extremely detailed, superb Shakespeare interpretations,” Chayes says. “To have sandwiched between these a play the place we will gleefully skewer Shakespeare and the patriarchy, it’s simply the perfect programming selection I might think about.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Urie, the “Ugly Betty” alumnus who final yr starred within the Netflix rom-com “Single All the Way” and the Broadway play “Rooster & Biscuits.” Returning to the Shakespeare Theatre, after enjoying the titular position in “Hamlet” in 2018, Urie is struck by the trajectory of a play that started as a DIY efficiency on-line — full with a cameo from his and Spahn’s canine — and now occupies hallowed theatrical floor.

“It’s this superb silver lining of this darkish time, after we have been all scared and unhappy and the theater was choking to demise, and [Monahon] wrote this superb piece of theater that we did underneath duress, virtually,” Urie says. “Now we’re on the Shakespeare Theatre, doing a play about Shakespeare. To have taken the journey of this play over the past virtually three years is extraordinarily gratifying.”

Shakespeare Theatre Firm’s Klein Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW; 202-547-1122. shakespearetheatre.org.


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