Whose Aemilia? seeks to wake a Aemilia Bassano Lanyer from the eternal slumber of History to investigate and answer the question of to whom does her historical reputation belong.
Should you see it?
Aemilia Bassano Lanyer lived and died 450 years ago. A notable poet and writer in her own right, she is perhaps most known today as the most likely candidate for Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.
Whose Aemilia? sees History awaken Aemilia from her eternal slumber to confront her with the facts and supposition of her life in order to get her to admit to being, and to accepting her historical place, as the woman who was the inspiration behind Shakepeare’s sonnets.
In writing, directing, and acting, Whose Aemilia? aces all three categories. Rachel Eugster portrays a strong-willed, forceful Aemilia.She’s counterpointed by the cool and collected Nicole Tessler as History while Tim Oberholzer is everything you’d want or expect him playing Shakespeare. And there’s a Shakespeare selfie gag that…
Well, to pin everything on Shakespeare would be to defeat the purpose of the play, which is to question how history should remember us? Should Aemilia be remembered for her likely connection to the greatest writer of the Western World, or could she instead be remembered on the merits of her own considerable body of work.
While the research that went into this show is evident and the play is well composed around its central question, any sense of drama outside of Aemilia’s conflict is lost in the facts and history, which may not appeal to everybody. Shakespeare is little more than a caricature, and History little more than an encyclopedia playing verbal foil to Aemilia’s desire for recognition. Neither have any stake or direct influence in the outcome of the play, leaving it to feel at times more like a debate than a piece of drama.
This is no question of quality, simply of audience. Are Ottawa Fringe audiences ready for more intellectual fare? A sold out opening night seems to think so.
But that’s just my opinion, and I’d love to know what you think. What was your favourite moment in the play? How should Aemilia be remembered by history? Join the discussion in the comments below.