One thing about high-concept Shakespeare productions — defined in our minds as any show that uses the phrase “with a twist” in press materials — is that they always seem to require a lengthy rationale. This month’s all-female production of “Much Ado About Nothing” by the Taffety Punk Theatre Company, though, doesn’t need justification for its twist. After all, Shakespeare’s works were performed by all-male casts for decades before women were ever allowed onstage.
Kimberly Gilbert and Tonya Beckman Ross, who play feuding lovers Benedick (a soldier) and Beatrice (a witty, independent woman), respectively, say the gender-bending hasn’t changed the play much — it’s less about gender than it is about getting the upper hand.
“We took a lot of time in rehearsal talking about the difference between civilians and soldiers,” Gilbert says. “It’s all about power — who has it and who doesn’t. Women really don’t have any power except when they’re being wooed.”
Riot Grrrls Shakespeare, an offshoot of Taffety Punk, began in 2008 as a response to a Shakespeare Theatre Company production of “Romeo and Juliet” that played up their choice to do an all-male production. Taffety responded by forming the Riot Grrrls, which staged a counter-production that was entirely sans men — and it did well enough that they continued in subsequent years with “Measure for Measure” and “Julius Caesar.”
The effect of using an all-female cast varies from play to play. “When the play is about gender relationships, it highlights things that normally you might not notice but that are within the text,” Ross says.
“‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is really about relationships, the nature of relationships,” Gilbert adds. “It’s not just about male versus female, but different kinds of sensibilities and modes of living and priorities and fears that are universal, no matter which sex you’re playing.”Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th St. SE; through Sept. 24, $10; 800-838-3006, Taffetypunk.com. (Eastern Market)