Illustration by Amy Donahue.
Theatre Unbound’s premiere of Christina Ham’s A Wives’ Tale is going to have to wait. With opening night just five weeks away, the script wasn’t finished – and so Theatre Unbound announced today that A Wives’ Tale will be replaced by a predominantly female production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
This isn’t the first time that A Wives’ Tale was left unfinished – according to Theatre Unbound’s season announcement last fall, Ham has been working on the script for more than a decade. The play-in-progress was then described as “A steampunk drama about women struggling to hold society together in a world after nuclear war.” Kate Powers was scheduled to direct A Wives’ Tale, and will instead helm the new production of Measure for Measure.
Ham, to be fair, has been rather busy – in 2017, she had engagements and productions in Minneapolis; St. Paul; Helena, Arkansas; and Washington, DC, among others. She was even interviewed by the National Endowment for the Arts for its blog. In a statement, Theatre Unbound’s Executive Director Anne Bertram said, “Though we’re disappointed not to be able to present A Wives’ Tale as planned, we’re excited to embark on this project with the remarkable artistic team we’ve assembled. Kate’s Shakespeare directing chops are formidable, and Measure for Measure couldn’t be more timely.”
Notably, this production will use a new edition of Shakespeare’s play prepared by Powers. Measure for Measure is traditionally classified as one of the Bard’s so-called “Problem Plays“, so-called because they don’t fit neatly into the genre boxes of “comedy” or “tragedy”. Measure for Measure is also sometimes called a problematic play, because of clashes in tone between different segments of writing and stage directions. Although written in 1603 or 1604, it wasn’t published until several years after Shakespeare’s death, when the First Folio compilation was made.
Some scholars attribute these clashes to an adaptation by Thomas Middleton, which reset the action from the Italian city of Ferrara to Austrian Vienna. As was the fashion then, plays were frequently revived with cuts and added texts – changes that were not always by the original author. (Middleton is also believed by some scholars to have collaborated with Shakespeare on Timon of Athens and All’s Well that Ends Well, although this is disputed.) Powers’ new performing edition of the text, based on recent scholarship, will be premiered by Theatre Unbound on March 24 at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul, MN. (New editions of Measure for Measure continue to be produced, incorporating the results of new streams of literary analysis.)
Theatre Unbound’s stated mission is to provide “thought-provoking live theatre conceived and created by women, providing audiences with engaging, rarely-seen perspectives on issues that are relevant and universal”. The company participated in the inaugural Berkshire Leadership Summit in October 2017. The summit, hosted by WAM Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts, is designed to help female theatre professionals overcome barriers to leadership, and to shift perceptions around women and leadership in the non-profit theatre world.
Basil Considine contributed to this article.