GENDER IS always a subtext when you consider the works of William Shakespeare. In his time, men played female roles because women were prohibited from performing. More recently, women have played traditionally male roles such as Hamlet and Richard III.
Nebraska Shakespeare recently has mixed it up, offering "The Taming of the Shrew" with an all-male cast in 2016 and creating a female performance group, Juno's Swans, which has performed various Shakespeare plays outside the yearly Shakespeare on the Green in Elmwood Park.
This year, interim artistic director Sarah Brown is bringing Juno's Swans to the main festival. She will direct an all-female cast in "All's Well That Ends Well." It opens Thursday night at Elmwood Park as the first show in this year's Shakespeare on the Green season, Nebraska Shakespeare's 33rd.
The season is branded Female Forward in recognition of women's participation in the arts.
It also promotes the company's pledge to provide equal opportunities for female actors, joining theaters across the country in the "50/50 in 2020" initiative.
The movement calls for equal pay for women in theater, supports works written, directed and designed by women and advocates for more professional opportunities for women.
Shakespeare wrote fewer female roles (to be played by men) than he did male parts, and the roles he did write had fewer lines. When she was the company's director of education a few years ago, Brown started Juno's Swan to give women more opportunities to play some of Shakespeare's best and most familiar characters.
In "All's Well That Ends Well," Helena is in love with Bertram, who wants nothing to do with her. She tries nearly everything to snare him. The comedic play's plot has the typical Shakespearean mistruths, betrayal and deceit, this time caused by Helena's obsession.
"Both Helena and Bertram have lost their fathers on the battlefield," Brown says in program notes. "Helena seeks comfort in love. Bertram seeks comfort in war. ... Both are struggling to survive moment to moment."
She says her version of the play will be irreverent, anachronistic, delightfully dark and playful.
"This play is a reflection of the emotional spectrum of life," she said, "a reflection of the human experience."