By William Wolf

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While director Irina Brook has been carrying on the avant-garde traditions of her father, Peter Brook, she has been carving out her own niche in the theater world, as evidenced by her latest work, “Shakespeare’s Sister,” a presentation of La Mama. The charmingly provocative play with music has been adapted by Ms. Brook from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and Marguerite Duras’s “La Vie Matérielle.” The result is a view of women that, while honoring some traditional functions, emphasizes the need to break away from the stereotypes. What if Shakespeare had a sister talented enough to write Shakespearean plays but never had the opportunity afforded a man?

We don’t get the feeling of a polemic. Before the dialogue begins we see a group of women within a kitchen enjoying themselves as they slice and dice vegetables and actually cook a meal in a large pot on a real stove. The women preparing a fantasy dinner party include Winsome Brown as Virginia Woolf, novelist and former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck as Marguerite Duras, actress Nicole Ansan, concert violin soloist Yibin Li and singer/songwriter Sadie Jemmett playing guitar and singing her own compositions. We watch with interest as they prepare dinner, and then as the lighting brightens the kitchen, we hear them speak, enabling us to become acquainted with them as individuals.

They talk about relations with men, the importance of love in one’s life, the status of women in the world and the attributes that women bring to the table. And as if to make sure that sexual prowess is not overlooked, at one point the women break into sexy dance gyrations more associated with strippers than with these ladies doing kitchen duty. They come across in total as a charming, appealing group and create an atmosphere of joy for the audience that is asked to respect them in full as opposed to women’s assigned, limiting roles in the prejudicial social structure.

The play is but an hour long, just enough to make its points effectively while providing unusual entertainment as it pleasingly sets forth its representative portraits of women and their vital sense of who they really are and the potential they have if given equal opportunities. At La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street. Phone: 212-475-7710. Reviewed September 24, 2013.


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