Well, it’s definitely unexpected. From the first moments after the curtain lifts, ‘Jane Anger‘ is a raucous love letter to feminism with some astonishing twists and turns.
Written during her own plague year, Talene Monahan (who also plays Anne Hathaway) set out to tell a possible historical tale of the real-life Jane Anger — a pseudonymized English author of the sixteenth century who was the first woman to publish a full-length defense of women in English — while also cutting Shakespeare down to size with a plague as the backdrop of the anger-in-action.
Played by the incomparable Michael Urie, who gives The Bard the jauntiness and irreverence he needs to play the villain in this female revenge comedy, Shakespeare finds himself basically alone — but keeping the equivalent of the Doordash delivery guy as his solitary companion during an outbreak of the plague — in his apartments during a rough outbreak.
He’s been through this before, and been remarkably prolific during epidemics of the past if dates and play titles are to be believed. Not so this time. But then, this play suggests he may have had inspiration (and stimulation) of the female variety to get his creative juices flowing.
So when Jane Anger, the possible “Dark Lady” of his sonnets herself according to this narrative, hoists herself up and into his apartments, things may be looking up for him. And her… if she can get him to sign off on a pamphlet she wants to be published. (Getting the A-OK of Shakespeare would apparently calm the fears of the printer at the press, and she wants her pamphlet published for the masses.)
Jane is played by Amelia Workman with exceptional talent and with veritable and palpable disdain. She and Anne Hathway, who coincidentally appears in a similar fashion later in the play, are strong foil characters, despite being two fascinating women of the period.
Offered in a stage-upon-a-stage setting, it is exciting for audiences to imagine the action back in 1606 while also taking part in portions with more modern sensibilities themselves when actors poignantly break the fourth wall. Ryan Spahn, as Francis the companion, is particularly wonderful at this — playing the quintessential Shakespearean fool.
While audiences should be cautioned that excessive lewd references are a bit much, it may not be so crazy to believe that given a women’s desperation to finally have her voice heard (and another’s to finally be recognized and loved by her husband), coupled with a plague and some madcap antics, and history could have been altered forever.
Jane Anger plays at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Klein Auditorium through January 8. Prepare for 90 minutes with no intermission, and a shock at the end!
*All images credit DJ Corey Photography