In The Swaggering Damsel, men sport elaborate tops and scabbards, while the women flaunt full-length velvet gowns and delicate headbands. Animated jesters are unsubtle with their flasks and stumble weakly as they move set pieces from one side of the stage to the other. Men who learn that their love for a beautiful woman might be unrequited threaten to commit suicide, numerous times. Yes, these characters appear to be living just after the Elizabethan era, but this play is not a work of Shakespeare.
The Swaggering Damsel
follows the complicated and budding relationship between the hesitant Valentine Crambag (Gunnar Machester ’15) and scheming Sabina Testy (Sarah Wainshal ’16). The play delved into the relationship between sex and love, and later featured the uncommon but extremely amusing cross-dressing of both main characters.
The great extent to which Shakespeare’s works have been produced in modern performing arts makes it particularly easy to disregard the other aspiring social commentators of the time. The Swaggering Damsel is the only play written by the amateur playwright Robert Chamberlain. After experimenting in the professional fields of law and religion, he directed his energy toward writing poetry, satire and jokes.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chamberlain’s sense of humor is not nearly as touching as Shakespeare’s. His jokes, though accessible, did not seem cunning enough to evoke a genuine fit of laughter form the audience.
That being said, it’s important that audience members adapt an open mind to the work of Elizabethan playwrights other than Shakespeare. Learning to appreciate amateur or lesser-known works of theater may broaden our knowledge of social perspectives of the time.
First-year Rebeccah Bassell has already adapted this mature mindset. She commented, “It’s so refreshing to see a theater production from seventeenth-century England by someone other than William Shakespeare. With gems from the show such as Valentine’s grandiose declarations of love and the comic interplay of the main characters in their cross-dressing confusion, the show is something not to be missed.”
Thankfully, the skilled Bates actors in The Swaggering Damsel filled their roles appropriately and with great confidence. English from that time period is intimidating enough to mumble in a high school Shakespeare class; therefore, the conviction with which the Bates actors performed their lines was comforting and impressive.
Although the cross dressing scenes were exciting for the audience, the necessary change in appearance and demeanor posed a challenge for the actors. In order for cross dressing to have its full comedic effect, the actors must be aptly convincing in their alternate role. Rather than be intimidated by this responsibility, Sarah Wainshal attacked the challenge by taking lessons with a voice coach outside of rehearsal. The convincing result was certainly a testament to her hard work.
The Bates Theater Department was lucky to have visiting professor of English and Bates alum Matteo Pangallo (Class of 2003) direct Chamberlain’s comedy. His blocking within the small Gannett Theater made the play significantly more enjoyable from the audience member’s point of view.
Rather than letting the small and confined space of Gannett Theater suffocate the audience members, the actors engaged them when appropriate with confirming glances and delightful references. Entrances and exits from polar ends of the theater made the play almost feel like it was performed in the round. The play’s opening also added to this sense of cohesive involvement.
Instead of entering when their characters do, the actors approached a costume rack in the center of the stage and began dressing in front of the audience. Not only did this establish a laid back and comfortable atmosphere for the audience members, but it also marked dressing and costuming as central themes in the play.
Even though Chamberlain is no Shakespeare, the direction and acting in The Swaggering Damsel made the play an enjoyably humorous experience for anyone who was lucky enough to fit in Gannett Theater last week. The Bates community should be proud to have these developing and delightful actors providing us with frequent cultural experiences.