Like so many active artists before the Covid lockdowns, Jeanmarie Simpson was in her element with other actors, rehearsing a stage version of LOVE SHAKESPEARE. Alas, she would not have the chance to display her version of the nurse. Barely a week into rehearsals, the cast and crew would meet the mundane fate of all work in progress—in a massive trash can of canceled productions.
Survival stories abound of theater people calibrating their options in a global pandemic. For an optimist like Jeanmarie, it was necessary to appeal to an affirmative force to soothe her deep shock. Either that or risk creative atrophy.
“I was deeply disappointed, of course,” she concedes, “and drowned my sorrows in film versions of Shakespeare. My favorite Hamlet is Zeffirelli’s, and while I was watching it, I thought a sequel with them all in Purgatory might be fun.”
Personally, a HAMLET binge in a dark season of discontent wouldn’t comfort me, but I welcome the idea of turning mass carnage into a work of comedy. It makes perfect sense from a therapeutic point of view. Thereby WHEN THE PARISH ENCLOSURES Yawn was born, a fanciful outcome of an otherwise disastrous circumstance.
The staging of the play is particularly intriguing, one that the playwright had no trouble conceiving. “Lockdown felt like purgatory to me,” she says. “Suddenly I could see it – a Dante-style Divine Comedy, and it all wrote itself.”
The script is clever, filled with sly jokes worthy of satirizing a Shakespearian tragedy. We encounter the usual suspects – the rights, the culprits and the wronged – ready to settle a score or two. As they move through various doorways and a chaotic mess of random earthly objects, the actors are led to piece together a set of uneven stairs, a theatrical metaphor crafted in real time and inspired by the artist’s work of Polish theater Tadeusz Kantor.
Jeanmarie has obviously done substantial research. Mind you, Hamlet doesn’t claim to own the stage because our playwright has a habit of giving others their well-deserved agency and voice, no matter how absurd.
Some voices are more pronounced than others, however, and Jeanmarie quickly recognizes her intention. “Certainly the womannm I’ve done the play (HAMLET) four times in the last 22 years – twice as Gertrude, twice as director – and I’ve had the same issues to deal with with Shakespeare each time. When I wrote Churchyards, I was able to confront Shakespeare through the voices of Gertrude and Ophélie. Even though there are fewer women than men in the room, it’s definitely the women’s room.”
Jeanmarie admits that the title of the piece sounds “delicious”. It feels quite theatrical and invokes the kind of mystery we are interested in when deconstructing Shakespeare. A notable anecdote from the playwright:
“There is its context in Hamlet – when it is ready to ‘drink hot blood and do business as bitter as the day would tremble to watch’. In the first production I conducted, at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City , Nevada, Something Fabulously Spooky Happened The Theater Hadn’t Been Restored Inside – It Was Getting A New Roof, But There Were Still Some Places You Could See The Sky At through the cracks and it was really great fun for black theater One night a whole bunch of bats swooped down on the audience just as Hamlet was saying that section – and they circled him on scene, then flew over the house and emerged through the corner from which they came. I have always held this passage in my heart as particularly magical.
“Beyond that, I imagine that when cemeteries yawn, they expose Purgatory, where our play takes place.”
WHEN THE PARISH ENCLOSURES Yawn is scheduled for a staged reading at 5:00 p.m. on July 16, at the Desert View High School Black Box Theater. Admission is free, although donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.