Review: Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, Rose Playhouse

The Rose Playhouse is the perfect location of Lisa Wolpe’s show, Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender. Within the Tudor archaeological excavation site, Wolpe takes the audience back in her life to understand how Shakespeare helped her get through some difficult times. As a visionary theatre artist, Wolpe is best known as the Producing Artistic Director of the LA Women’s Shakespeare Company. It’s an all-female company that spans across all ages and races.

Wolpe’s intention is to bring enlightenment to her audiences. Shakespeare takes her through a healing process where she is able to come to terms with the losses and pains in her lifetime. She opens a discussion for subjects that are normally considered unspeakable. Through both celebration of and comfort in Shakespeare’s language, Wolpe works through the fascinating history of her family. She attaches passages from Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale and Richard III, to work through the issues.

Regardless of how brushed up you are on your Shakespeare, it is impossible not to be touched by her heartfelt performance. The audience gain an insight to what makes Shakespeare’s male characters so liberating for her to play and how her slowly unraveling family tragedies helped reveal Shakespeare as a humanist. She says she wrote this performance in memory of her father who could not live with the trauma of the Holocaust and committed suicide when she was only four years old.  Her sudden discovery of a Jewish heritage brings a deeper understanding to the character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – she shows that although the times are different, the struggles are the same.

After every show, Wolpe holds a Q&A session with her audience. She says that after having shared her experiences, she hopes to have opened a door for her audience to do the same and hopes to make new connections. She emphasises the importance of humanity and understanding, and says that her siblings struggle to come to terms with their losses and suffering in the same way that she has. Indeed, being a performer has really helped her open up and find a healthy way to deal with her past- especially as she cannot speak to her family.

Even for audiences who have never experienced similar situations to Wolpe, there is something that appeals to all. Her all inclusive performance is an encouragement for audiences to open up about their own lives in an incredibly thought-provoking and creative way. It’s like group therapy, where you leave enlightened and liberated.

Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender plays The Rose Playhouse until 26 July. For more information and tickets, see The Rose Playhouse website. Photo by The Rose Playhouse.