The gentlewomen of the Jungle

An all-female production of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” opens Friday.

The Jungle Theatre's interpretation of Shakespeare's

Sam Harper

The Jungle Theatre's interpretation of Shakespeare's "The Two Gentleman Of Verona," runs from Feb. 12- March 27.

Danylo Loutchko

The 16th century wasn’t a great time to be a woman in general, let alone in the theater.
 
 
All productions at that time were cast entirely with men, and theater remained an exclusively male endeavor for hundreds of years. 
 
 
In her debut production as the new resident artistic director at the Jungle Theater, Sarah Rasmussen flips history around with an all-women cast for Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which opens Friday
 
 
“The statistics are that only 16 percent of the roles [in Shakespeare] are for women,” Rasmussen said. “And they tend to fall into some pretty predictable categories. … They tend to be the young ingenues or the nursemaid or the older queen.”
 
 
With an all-women cast, Rasmussen said Shakespearean characters can be played in a more rounded way. 
 
 
“I think it’s interesting when we look at these plays through a lens of a same-gender cast, whether it’s all male or all female,” Rasmussen said. “Gender starts to fall away, and we just see people. We see these people playing a character, and it disrupts our experience a little bit, so we can’t just think, ‘Guys are always like this. Girls are always like this.’ We kind of say, ‘Oh wait, people are like this.’ ”
 
 
This residency at the Jungle comes as a next step in an extensive career. She’s directed at local theaters like Ten Thousand Things and Mixed Blood, as well as nationally with a three-season residency at the Oregon Shakespeare festival. 
 
 
“[The Jungle] opened with a Shakespeare, and Shakespeare was the first place that I really fell in love with theater as a director,” Rasmussen said. “I got to see some Shakespeare at the Guthrie when I was a teenager, so [this production] felt like going back to my first love.”
 
 
As the new artistic director, she hopes this production sets the tone for the seasons that follow. Rasmussen said the Jungle is not only open to doing the classics with a fresh take, but this season includes more modern plays and a brand new play.
 
 
Am’Ber Montgomery and Taylor Harvey are seniors in the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, and they are part of the cast for “Two Gentlemen.”
 
 
Rasmussen reached out to the BFA program and auditioned all the women in the senior class to be in the production. 
 
 
“What I think is really cool about us doing this play right now is that we’re in a classical theater training program, so we have a lot of exposure to Shakespeare,” Montgomery said. “I was so moved [when we started working on the show] because I realized I had never heard women speak Shakespeare this often.”
 
 
In addition to being an all-women production, the actors’ age range is a staggering 65 years. 
 
 
“It’s a rare opportunity to have a really intergenerational cast,” Rasmussen said. “I think that’s one of things that Shakespeare does that’s amazing — he just puts a whole community on stage, people of all ages, of all statuses. I think that’s one of the reasons we all go back to his plays, because you can always find yourself in somebody.”
 
 
Rasmussen also pointed out that, as all-women Shakespeare productions get more popular, they tend to be just the tragedies, like “King Lear” or “Julius Caesar.” The comedies, like “Two Gentlemen,” rarely are performed in this fashion.
 
“I think it’s also important to let women have just as much fun and to play the silly funny comedy stuff, too,” Rasmussen said. “Comedy is kind of the last frontier for women; it’s still kind of a boy’s club,” Rasmussen said. “We can sometimes dismiss comedy as being kind of silly — [actually], it’s powerful to be the person telling the jokes.” 
 
 
“The Two Gentlemen of Verona”
 
Where The Jungle Theater, 2951 S. Lyndale Ave.
When Feb. 12-Mar. 277:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays
Cost $15 college night on Fridays w/ student ID, $25 “Under 30” all nights