STAUNTON, Va. – The opening run of Emma Whipday’s Shakespeare’s Sister has sadly come to an end at the American Shakespeare Center. Whipday’s fictional account of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith who is an aspiring playwright. Shakespeare did have a sister named Joan, but she lived out her life in Stratford. But in 1929 Virginia Woolf wrote an essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” in which she wrote: “Let me imagine, since the facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith let us say.” But unlike Woolf’s essay, Judith does not commit suicide after her play is rejected, but she pursues through an affair and law breaking.
The cast of the American Shakespeare Center’s Actors’ Renaissance Season, has a cast of all-star players who have developed Whipday’s characters into honest Elizabethan citizens. Whipday spends the first act developing the life of Judith (Ginna Hoben) and the societal issues that she will be taking on. After the players of Henslowe’s troupe leave Richard Burbage (Benjamin Reed) behind, Judith decides to produce her play as an all-women cast because Burbage originally refused to participate. The role of women would be played by young boys, but the idea that they be played by a woman were asinine.
Allison Glenzer plays the character of Joan Henslowe with such grace that you momentarily forget that she oversees the brothel behind her father’s playhouse. Lauren Ballard and Jessika Williams are two of Joan’s girls, and they are the comic relief throughout a play that tackles the sexist and religious society they live. Even though we only briefly see William Shakespeare in the play, he is not necessary to the plot.
As a humble viewer, I can wholeheartedly say that Shakespeare’s Sister will be a play that will forever be a staple in the theater and the classroom. Whipday gives a set of characters that students will study when talking about Elizabethan theater, and it gives them a sense of the person.
If you hear of a production being performed near you, we all fully recommend attending.