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Whose Aemilia?

By Joseph Hutt on June 15, 2015

60 Minutes | Drama, Comedy, Social Commentary | G

Whose Aemilia? is a thought-provoking performance, illuminating the timeless conflict between History and Her Story by focusing on the life of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, a poet who was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. Popularly suspected of being his muse, she is known as the Dark Lady. Rachel Eugster, the writer and star of the show, claims that this performance is very different from the one she had set out to write. What had begun as Who’s Aemilia?, through a little research, quickly turned to Whose Aemilia?

What ensues is an interesting dissection of, not who Aemilia is, but of the historic “evidence” and people that have decided what she was, ending with a rather feminist message that is both well executed and on the mark.

As serious a theme as this sounds, Eugster’s performance is filled with comedy, from her banter with the ever-intruding figure of William Shakespeare himself to the snarky commentary of her nameless, reality-bending co-star, played by Naomi Tessler, who insists upon regaling Aemilia with “her own” story. Which makes sense, as the program reveals to us that her character is History itself, and not necessarily “true” history, but popular history, a history that ironically recognizes its own fallacies and yet flaunts itself nonetheless, much to Aemilia’s ire.

One of the interesting things that this performance tried to do was to incorporate digital media, using a projector to display visual representations of Aemilia’s story, progressing to the next slide with a snap of History’s fingers. While this was a neat idea, and helped to balance the stage, synchronicity was an issue at times, dampening the effect that this would have had otherwise. However, when it worked, the effect of that sudden shift in focus was powerful. While I also may have been missing key references, I also feel that the slideshow itself could have been crafted more effectively, as some of the images were obscure, or failed, at least for me, to reflect the historic significance they were trying to convey.

Regardless, the acting was fun and entertaining and I found the method and message of this social commentary to be refreshing and enlightening, giving insight not only into how we identify our historical figures, but how we ourselves may be posthumously remembered by generations to come. It also offers a clever combination of contemporary dialogue and Elizabethan verse and should be accessible to those who’ve read an Elizabethan sonnet or two. This play has my recommendation and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Whose Aemelia?, by Rachel Eugster, is being shown at Venue 5 – ODD Box (Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue, 2nd Floor). Tickets are $12, and performances are Saturday, June 20th at 7:30pm; Monday, June 22nd at 10:00pm; Wednesday, June 24th at 7:00pm; Saturday, June 27th at 3:00pm; and Sunday, June 28th at 6:00pm.


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