Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 1999
Actress Tod Randolph and director Daniela Varon have brought Patrick Garland’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” back to Shakespeare & Company after their brief sold-out visit last summer. It is a pleasure to welcome this gracious and thought-provoking work back to the Berkshires in an extended run where many more people will have a chance to see it.
Many of my female friends were very excited to hear about this show and told me long stories of the impact reading Woolf’s book of the same name had on their lives. I understand the book ranked number four on the Random House list of the Top 100 Nonfiction Books of the Century. Published in 1929, “A Room of One’s Own” was based on an essay Woolf wrote, in turn adapted from two papers she read in 1928 at Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, England. Newnham and Girton were then the women’s colleges at Cambridge – and relatively new ones at that.
The colleges invited Woolf to speak on “Women in Fiction”. This led her to a deep examination of fiction, and fact, written about women; why women didn’t write fiction (or drama or poetry) until the 19th century; and what would have become of them if they did. She makes the important point that, in order to be creative, an artist needs an income, food and shelter, and the personal freedom to express herself: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Woolf creates the fictional character of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith – a woman endowed with all the ability and ambition of her brother. Through this device Woolf demonstrates how society’s treatment of and attitudes towards women have squleched, indeed often murdered, their creative urges for centuries.
This feminist manifesto was considered revolutionary when it was published, and obviously has continued to speak to women (and, one can only hope, men) over the past 70 years. I did a quick scan of the audience the night I attended and was pleased to find about a 50/50 male /female ratio, but how many of those men came along simply as company for the women in their lives is hard to tell. My father, who was my date for the evening and was 13 the year “A Room of One’s Own” was published, confessed that he really couldn’t tell Virginia Woolf from Elizabeth Taylor.
Garland’s adaptation and Varon’s direction meld seamlessly with Randolph’s effortless performance as Woolf in this gem of a production. The last one woman show I saw that moved me and impressed me as much was when I saw Julie Harris on Broadway in “The Belle of Amherst” many, many years ago. Indeed, these would be interesting shows to perform in repertory because much of what Woolf has to say about being a woman writer, Emily Dickinson lived. Yet Dickinson triumphed, at least posthumously, without an income and a room of her own. She was so completely a poet that nothing could silence her artistic voice.
I would encourage you to attend this remarkable evening of theatre, and I would encourage you to bring a young woman of high school or college age with you (if you happen to fall into that category, bring all your friends!) Woolf’s words are words of empowerment, written for young women, that our young women still need to hear. It doesn’t hurt us older ones to hear them again either.
Randolph and Varon have been working together on “A Room of One’s Own” since 1996. After its sold out weekend at Shakespeare & Company last season, they took “A Room of One’s Own” to New York for a few workshop performances, and hope to bring it to an off-Broadway theatre in the fall. I wish them well.
“A Room of One’s Own” runs through August 1 at Shakespeare & Company‘s Wharton Theatre in The Mount. The show runs two hours with one intermission. Call 413-637-3353 for tickets and information.