or what she will
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
August 12, 2012
The title of Charly E. Simpson’s play, or what she will, misled me. My expectations were entirely different than the world this play submerged me in. Twelfth Night, the Shakespearian comedy, is subtitled or what you will so I expected to enjoy a comedy of mistaken identity, silly disguise, romance, adventure and all with an ultimately uplifting tone.
or what she will is none of those things. It is dark, dangerous, and unforgiving. It reaches up from the bottom of a stormy sea and drags you down, gasping for breath. I left the theatre in tears.
The script is clever and strong, built around a quote of the novelist William Faulkner: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” In this instance it seems to be a reference to our bodies remembering what our brains want us to forget: pain, humiliation, fear and shame. Simpson’s tale loops and eddies, starts and recedes like an angry ocean of pain.
We meet our precocious heros, sweet twin tweens, a boy and a girl, “Faulkner” and “Willa,” who’s lovely and loving “Mother” reads them Shakespeare - but never Titus Andronicus, never Othello - only the comedies. There is a present and involved “Father,” and “Julie,” the cute girl next door. And there is danger, personified in “The Man.”
The direction by Illana Stein is fluid, theatrical and oh so smart. Movement tells us what words cannot express. Words can be our protection, or a weapon. Books are strewn everywhere, roughly tossed overboard and washed ashore, frayed covers, broken spines, their insides turned out by this play. The characters suffer the same fate as the books they love. We discover along with “Willa” that your brain, no matter how clever, can’t outsmart your heart. Life is perilous, danger is everywhere, childhood innocence is unsalvageable, wrecked on the rocks hidden just beneath the surface. Those are the lessons I took from this play.
The cast, led by Monica Jones as “Willa,” are amazing. They are real, and raw, shocking and surprising. Heartbreaking in their honesty and each one a dark pleasure to watch.
The topic of horrors subjected to and by children is important to visit, so we can find ways to prevent them, of course. But it’s a very gloomy subject for such a sunny summer’s day. For me, even in the grimmest fairy tale I need a little ray of hope.