Breaking-the-glass-ceiling isn’t a new concept for females. Women have always struggled to maintain authority in this male dominated world. Maybe it was more like breaking-the-stone-pyramid or breaking-the-crown-jewels but through the ages, women have overcome major obstacles to rule. She has battled the physical and emotional demands of a job others would kill for. She has gone to war for the greater good. And unlike her male counterparts governed by a different organ, her biggest hurdle is often her heart.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents ELIZABETH REX. Playwright William Shakespeare and his troop are playing at the palace. Before they can exit the royal grounds, the imposed curfew quarantines them in the barn. The regulated containment is to keep capital punishment protestors away. It’s the eve of the beheading of the Earl of Essex. He is rumored to have bedded the Queen. But it’s his betrayal of the Queen that has sentenced him to death. He awaits death in the tower. In the barn, the Shakespearean players receive an unexpected visitor. Queen Elizabeth has decided to pull an all-nighter! She wants the actors to distract her from the real drama unfolding. Instead, she spirals into a self-examination of truths. Spending the night with a bunch of actors turns into an emotional reality check. ELIZABETH REX dominates!
Playwright Timothy Findley pens the fascinating tale. Based on some actual historic events, Findley imagines the disturbing contemplation of a Queen choosing country over soulmate. Findley impressively compares male actors playing women roles to a female sovereign playing a male role. Under the direction of Barbara Gaines, Diane D’Aquila (Elizabeth) rules! D’Aquila is a superior presence. D’Aquila delivers a complex performance. She is droll with clipping wit. She is bitchy with demanding requests. She is vulnerable with un-wigged humanity. D’Aquila is THE Queen…on the worst night of her life. D’Aquila’s majestic presence fills the barn and the theatre! Calling the HRH on her sh#t, Steven Sutcliffe (Ned) gives a passionate performance. Sutcliffe poignantly shares his regrets and satisfaction over roles onstage and offstage. The entire talented cast transfix in the illusion of actors after the curtain falls. A few other exceptional standouts, Bradley Armacost (Percy) is wistfully amusing, Mary Ann Thebus (Kate) is hysterically charming, and Andrew Rothenberg (Jack) is boldly tempting.
I loved ELIZABETH REX! I was captivated from the first scene, which was the last scene of the pretend play, to the curtain call with the cast Shakes-ing it up! The story intrigues with a behind-the-curtain-below-the-wig innovation. One of my favorite angles was the actual character of William Shakespeare, played by Kevin Gudahl, looming on the fringe of the action. Always present, Gudahl is observing and noting the interactions. This IS the writer’s perspective! We aren’t the center of attention. We leave that to the actors. Writers are spectators of life relaying their impressions later in words. This show was a personally profound theatrical experience for me as a writer and a woman. ELIZABETH REX is a superpower!
Enjoying the idea of a handmaid, Lady Jen describes it with ‘mesmerizingly powerful & stunning.’
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes includes an intermission
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Avenue
Written by Timothy Findley
Directed by Barbara Gaines
Thru January 22nd
Buy Tickets at www.chicagoshakes.com/rex