FEAST (a play in one cooking) sets out looking to answer its own question of ‘what it means to be a woman in a world-famous story’. The journey is neither straight-forward, nor complete. Conceptually intriguing, Olivia Negrean’s script brings together six women from Shakespeare’s works to cook dinner together and lament on their literary fates and legacies.
Taking on the role of Hamlet’s Ophelia, Negrean is joined by Measure for Measure’s Isabella (Sara Barison), Macbeth’s Lady Macbeth (Marie Rabe), Richard III’s Lady Anne (Charlie Coletta), Cymbeline’s Imogen (Hannah Lucas) and Othello’s Emilia (Lucy Ford).
Even through the simple task of naming characters, the necessity of this play exposes itself. Each woman (with the technical exception of Isabella), reads to be a component of the man their respective play represents. Whilst given space within their plays for nuance and development, their ultimate fates (beyond influencing that of the male protagonist) are secondary, if not inconsequential. Hence the consistent lack of hesitation in writing their mental breakdown, or more likely, death.
None of this is new information of course. Critiquing the early 17th century through a feminist lens serves as much use as fact-checking Trump. Thankfully, the play acknowledges this, and claims to rather study the societal impact this particular representation of women achieves. In theory.
Through a series of monologues, each character tries to expand on what was written of them, provide new information, or explanations for their actions. Whilst this does go some way in resolving what Shakespeare left hastily finished, there is a lack of subtext. Most of the time is spent recounting the plot of their play to provide exposition, before it can go onto say what it actually wants to. After one of six, it becomes formulaic.
Where I was left most disappointed by FEAST, was in the establishment of the play’s crux – its metatheatricality. Mainly resulting from textual conflicts, throughout the play, characters both take ownership for their actions and express their anger at the fate they had been written. If the point of the work is to critique the relationship of the male writer and female character, it should be a fundamental fact of the world we are inhabiting that the writer did indeed, write.
In combination with its tenuous relationship with fiction and reality, where characters both assert their real-life existence and then go on to speak of themselves as characters, asking for empathy towards events it has emphasised to not be real seems misguided.
Each actor carries their role with a heightened theatricality in reference to their Elizabethan origin. It works as an affect to give context and they all perform to what the text asks, but it also prevents emotional sincerity. When each of the monologues aims for catharsis, that is a problem.
The constant action of cooking that underscores the performance is calming and on the edge of a Fluxus-esque happening. Where it stumbles is in its attempt to be both theatrical and metatheatrical – the spectacle can only be one. If cooking for the audience, why not actually cook for the audience? Rather than beyond a pointless fourth wall, that is broken in the end anyway. Even the monologues would be far more palatable if told to us, and at least then there would be a reason for each character (re)telling what they and their fellow characters already know.
FEAST (a play in one cooking) played until 11 April. For more information, visit the Romanian Cultural Institute website.