Taking her passion for Shakespeare up close and personal, Susannah York creates an admirable evening out of the Bard’s distaff characters in “The Loves of Shakespeare’s Women,” a pleasant and easy-to-tour one-hander of soliloquies, sonnets and scenes that shows off thesp skill, class and a bit of star power to aging baby-boomer auds.
What began at Edinburgh in 2003, followed by runs in London and Off Broadway, now is reposi-tioned for further touring in a simple, graceful show that shines a lovely light on the ladies in the canon, often overlooked compared to the multitude of men in the Bard’s plays.
While not as staggering a showcase as John Gielgud’s one-man show “The Ages of Man,” York manages to get a foothold centerstage for her characters who inhabit the world of men. York has chosen love in its many incarnations as the unifying theme for the women; while that may be a stretch for a few of them, the point isn’t too belabored.
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Though she started her career at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and her late-adult stage credits are also impressive, York is best known for films such as “A Man for All Seasons,” “The Killing of Sister George” and her Oscar-nominated turn in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” But an English stage expert she most certainly is, showing assuredness,poise and impeccable pronunciation.
Crafting the show herself as a kind of friendly master class, York divides the evening, featuring younger characters in the first act and women of “mid years and beyond” in the second. Between selections, she offers a personal perspective incorporating peeks into her process, career and life.
With hip, spiky hair, dressed in a creamy tunic for the first act and a more mature silky outfit in the second, York looks smashing at 64. She displays the charms with which she once wooed audiences and the title character in “Tom Jones”: the wide eyes and the wider smile that promises to yield something wonderful. In this show, she often does.
She shakes off decades and is transformed into a blissful and radiant Juliet. Elsewhere in the first act, she is amusing as Viola, endearing as Rosalind and honorable and wise as Isabella and Portia. The second half gives her a deeper sense of experience — and register — with Lady Macbeth, Gertrude and Emilia, ending with the heartbreaking tragic gasp of Constance in “King John.”
Less fine are the pieces that have multiple focus and a comic lumpiness, which was never her strong suit, in excerpts from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
York’s intelligent approach to all the scenes — including beautifully rendered sonnets — is in keeping with an esteemed Brit tradition, speaking to the music of the words rather than refashioning the lines to another reality. Even if this sometimes overly grand and classic approach is not one’s cup of tea, it is elegantly delivered and well served.