Talene Monahon on Her New Revenge Comedy, Jane Anger

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Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 199

In Talene Monahon’s new play Jane Anger, a narcissistic William Shakespeare is wrestling with writers’ block while working on King Lear. When Will’s former flame Jane Anger shows up, he knows she can help him finish the play. But Jane wants something in return. She needs Will’s help to publish a pamphlet she’s written that calls out sexist male playwrights for the wrongs they’ve done to women everywhere.

That pamphlet is a real historical document: “Jane Anger: Her Protection for Women,” published in 1589. The true identity of the historical Jane Anger is still unknown. Monahon has taken that historical blank page and written on it a revenge farce that’s savagely funny, comically violent, and seriously outraged. It manages to take in present-day concerns like #MeToo and the pandemic, and makes room for ecstatically silly bathroom humor.

Jane Anger is onstage through January 8 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. We talk to Monahon, who also plays Anne Hathaway in the show, about how she discovered Jane Anger’s pamphlet, her depiction of Shakespeare, and more. She is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

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From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published December 20, 2022. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Logan in Washington and Jenna McClellan at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc. 

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Related

Read Jane Anger: Her Protection...
Read a transcription and see images of the Folger's copy of Jane Anger's radical pamphlet.

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Transcript

MICHAEL WITMORE: Picture this: William Shakespeare, sitting at his desk, quill in hand, preparing to write his next masterpiece. But what’s really on his mind is this cool earring he just got.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Michael Urie is William Shakespeare, Ryan Spahn is Frankie.]


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Nothing is coming. I’ve grown so old.

FRANCIS: No!

SHAKESPEARE: Yes, I am ancient.

FRANCIS: You are but a strapping 42, sir.

SHAKESPEARE: The average life expectancy in Jacobean England is 42. Have perspective! Thank you for the strapping, though.

In a new play called Jane Anger, it’s Shakespeare In Love by way of Monty Python.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director.

The play Jane Anger stars Michael Urie as a narcissistic William Shakespeare, locked down in London for the plague with his assistant Frankie, played by Ryan Spahn. Will is trying to write King Lear, but he’s desperately blocked. When Will’s former flame Jane Anger shows up, he knows she can help him finish the play. But Jane wants something in return. She needs Will’s help to publish a pamphlet she’s written that calls out sexist male playwrights for the wrongs they’ve done to women everywhere.

After a run off-Broadway in New York, Jane Anger is currently playing in Washington, D.C. at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The playwright is Talene Monahon, who also appears in the play as Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s neglected wife. The pamphlet at the center of the play’s action is a real historical document: Jane Anger: Her Protection for Women, published in 1589. But the identity of the historical Jane Anger is still unknown.

Monahon has taken that historical blank page and written on it a revenge farce that’s by turns savagely funny, comically violent, and seriously outraged. It manages to take in present-day concerns like Me Too and the pandemic, while also making room for ecstatically silly bathroom humor.

Here’s Talene Monahon in conversation with Barbara Bogaev.

-------------------

BARBARA BOGAEV: Why don't we start with the hero of your play, Jane Anger, because she just slays. Tell us everything you know about her.

TALENE MONAHON: Well, no one seems to know that much. Basically, it's just, there is this pamphlet that was published in Elizabethan England during the same time that Shakespeare was writing. It was called Jane Anger, Her Protection for Women.

It's this, sort of, radical, wild, scorching proto-feminist pamphlet, that is discussing sexism and denouncing sexual assault, I think in a very radical way, taking issue with the way that men write about women and the way that female characters are written. Which I think is super fascinating and radical, even by today's standards.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Amelia Workman is Jane Anger, Talene Monahon is Anne Hathaway.]


JANE ANGER: Their slanderous tongues are so short, and the time wherein they have lavished out their words freely, hath been so long—by “so long,” here I’m referring to all of history, does that make sense?

ANNE HATHAWAY: Oh, okay, yes.

JANE ANGER: It hath been so long, that they know we cannot catch hold of them to pull them out. They think we will not write to reprove their lying lips.

HATHAWAY: They think we will not write!

JANE ANGER: Yeah, Anne, they suppose there’s not one amongst us who can.


MONAHON: But there's just this pamphlet, and they don't know who Jane Anger was. Some people think she was a man, which feels sort of improbable to me.

BOGAEV: She really gets into it in the pamphlet. By the way, I heard you stop yourself, because the title is really long, it's Her Protection for Women To defend them against the scandalous reports of a late Surfeiting Lover, and all other like Venerians that complain so to be overcloyed with women’s kindness. I had to look up “Venerians”.

MONAHON: Yeah. There's a lot that needs to be looked up. It's not like a straightforward piece of writing. I will be the first to admit that.

BOGAEV: It's wonderful. It's full of character. The language is really interesting in this pamphlet. It feels really modern. I was looking at one of my favorites, “FIE on the falsehood of men, whose minds go oft a madding, and whose tongues cannot so soon be wagging, but straight they fall a railing.”

MONAHON: It's really evocative. I thought a lot in creating this show about “Anger Artists,” which is a distinction that Virginia Woolf drew in A Room of One’s Own: the difference between people who are sort of regular artists—who are able to dissolve identities in their work because their work is not defined by their anger or their politics, you could say—and the people whose anger is the thing that compels them to create. It sort of is a defining part of their work.

Virginia Woolf talks about Jane Austin and also Shakespeare as people, as artists who lack anger. And who are—she sort of marvels at the way that they're able to write without anger. Tony Kushner talks about Larry Kramer as being a great example of… who could not and would not choose to do that, who was sort of… I think it ties in with activism too. Writers and artists whose work is so defined by their anger. It's like the driving force.

While we don't know anything about Jane Anger, it's very clear to me that she did not have that privilege of being able to write without anger. But also, I don't know that she would've chosen that. It's this, sort of, really stunning work. It almost feels like it was written in one sitting, you know?

BOGAEV: It's true, it's true. You feel this forward velocity as the pamphlet goes on. And you mentioned some of the things she gets into, which are very serious critiques of men's sexual assault and abuse. But she also gets a really good description of mansplaining.

MONAHON: Yes, totally.

BOGAEV: Right? “The desire that every man hath to show his true vain in writing is unspeakable, and their minds are so carried away with the manner, as no care at all has had of the matter.” And, “They run so into Rethorick, as often times they overrun the bounds of their own wits, and go they know not whether.” She just nails it.

MONAHON: Yeah, it's such a wild piece of writing. I was shocked that I hadn't heard of it sooner. I was, like, a Woman and Gender Studies major in college, and I was just shocked that it had never come up. And it had never come up in all my, kind of, research on Shakespeare. It took me a while to find it. I am glad I did.

BOGAEV: I'm going to ask you about that in a second, but I wonder, did you get any ideas for jokes or bits for the play directly from the pamphlet?

MONAHON: Certainly. I think the play pokes a lot of fun at these phenomena that you've described in the pamphlet, like mansplaining, like men taking up space, like sexism.

Frankie and Will, the two male characters in the play, really indulge in those things in a way that is also tied in, I think, with traditional farce and traditional male humor.

Even comedy that I grew up with and I'm obsessed with, like Monty Python and old SNL and stuff like that, has sort of a casual misogyny, or sometimes an overt misogyny, just built into it. Like, it is sort of the language of a traditional type of farce. Using that in both the form and function of the play and then trying to invert it ultimately is my goal.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Ryan Spahn is Francis, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare.]


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: A woman? Writing? What, sitting at her little desk with a quill, scribbling away in her skirt? “Look at me, I’m a woman writing.

FRANCIS: Oh, look at me, I’m a woman forming words in my mind and then making sentences out of them!

BOGAEV: Oh, that is so interesting because it is hard-baked into comedy, if only because comedians, primarily, were male.

MONAHON: Totally.

BOGAEV: Right? Like, the history of comedy… and if we're talking standup, we're talking about angry men.

MONAHON: Oh yeah, for sure. I was sort of amazed when I first started writing this play. It was first a short play and it was just the male characters. I wrote it for my friends, Michael and Ryan, who are in this production: Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn.

I wrote it in April of 2020 and it was streamed virtually in May of 2020. It was just the two men and it was very silly and it was like 20 minutes long.

BOGAEV: This is the Frankie and Will story?

MONAHON: This is Frankie and Will, yeah. And I was just, sort of, amazed at how naturally that kind of humor and shtick, including the casual misogyny, came out of me when I was writing it.

BOGAEV: And this is… Will is William Shakespeare and Frankie is his kind of assistant or manservant. And these characters are in your play as well.

MONAHON: Yes.

BOGAEV: So you found this—you were just falling into this, kind of, male kind of comedy.

MONAHON: It felt like what I knew how to write. So, then, when I thought… when I wanted to expand it into a full-length play, it felt really important to me to complicate that and address it and to turn it on its head. The Jane Anger pamphlet felt like the perfect way to answer that, ultimately.

But it was interesting, you know, as a woman, as a feminist, writing this play to be like, “Oh, this stuff comes really naturally to me just because I'm sort of writing in the voice and the style of what I associate with humor and what I know.”

BOGAEV: So, you started thinking, “Okay, we're going to subvert this. I need some female characters.” How did you come upon Jane Anger?

MONAHON: Well, you know, initially I was like, “Oh, well, yeah, there's the Dark Lady of the sonnets. She could be a character.” But then I read the Dark Lady Sonnets and I thought, “These are really not very nice to whomever the Dark Lady was.” It felt really much more complicated than I had realized.

BOGAEV: Also, maybe not a lady.

MONAHON: Also, maybe not a lady.

BOGAEV: Wouldn’t fit the bill.

MONAHON: I think there was something about—I was like, “She has to have something else going on.” There was something about, like, having the character just be the Dark Lady of the sonnets that still felt like it was really centering Shakespeare and his work in a way that I was… there are many things that have centered Shakespeare in his work and I was like, “I don't really want this play to do that. I want to go in a different direction.”

Then, finding the pamphlet, I thought, “Okay, what if she has her own agenda? What would it look like for someone to have written a piece of writing like this? Certainly they would not be able to tell most people that they had written it.” It feels so revolutionary and radical that I imagine it would have to be kept under wraps and someone would have to be very crafty to figure out how to actually get it published.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Amelia Workman is Jane Anger, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare.]


JANE ANGER: I’ve written a thing.

SHAKESPEARE: You have?

JANE ANGER: Yes. And I would like it published but I can’t do it myself for obvious reasons.

SHAKESPEARE: Because you’re a woman and you used to be a house whore who ran a filthy whorehouse.

JANE ANGER: Great, you got it. So, what I need is for you to sign a paper that says, “I Shakespeare endorse this work for publication.” And I’ll take it to William Jaggard and his printing press, and he shall publish it. Because you have such a weighty name.

SHAKESPEARE: Shakespeare.

JANE ANGER: Great job. That’s your name. Will you do it?

BOGAEV: I don't want to beat this into the ground.

MONAHON: No, please.

BOGAEV: Because this is a very funny play and very fun to watch. But it is kind of interesting how you get to real issues of feminism and the relationship between men and women and how screwed up it can get and anger. Just, Jane Anger's anger comes across so righteously.

MONAHON: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: I wondered as you were writing, did you have to balance or were you aware of balancing this super funny farcical play with something deeper?

MONAHON: Yeah. Yeah. That's such a good question. Yeah, I was. And thinking about this woman, who has very little privilege or opportunity in this world, but who has this thing that she wants to be published and all the limitations that she's up against to getting it published.

But the ideas, I think, are really important and it's very moving to think of—to me—to think about someone carrying them and wanting to get them out into the world. And the type of space they could take up, if they had been more widely distributed or if she'd had sort of the same kind of opportunity as someone like Shakespeare.

I'm not saying that they're equivalent writers, certainly not. You know, as I said, she's like an “anger artist.” She's doing a different thing.

Also, I'm glad you asked me this question because I wanted to speak about Amelia Workman, who plays Jane, who is a phenomenal actress. The writing of Jane has very much been a collaboration with all the actors, but especially with Amelia. Trying to figure out, you know, how do we… she's more of a real person than the other characters, certainly than Frankie and Will. How do we balance the jokes and the humor with her intention and her through line in the play?

BOGAEV: Well, that is such a hard balancing act.

MONAHON: A really hard balancing act. For sure.

BOGAEV: Can you give us an example of something that Amelia came up with to either further the comedy, the comedic edge, or further the characters, you know, just righteous, serious core?

MONAHON: Well, what's amazing about her is that she can do both simultaneously, which is really special. But she's really great about… you know, when we get to different moments in the play, saying, “I think I would need… I think I would want to say more here. I would want to…,” because her character has the power of using asides to the audience.

So we talk about, when does she need an aside to clarify what she's actually thinking or what she's actually doing. And when sometimes Amelia will say, “Actually, I don't need that. I think I can just do that with a look, you know?”

I had this idea for the first production that Jane Anger would have, sort of, a Stage-Manager-in-Our-Town quality, and that she would be able to, like, provide more exposition and sort of step out of the play a little more, and [I] learned very quickly that that was not necessary. That was something, if we had had more previews, I would've changed it then. But, that it actually feels more important for her to be more in the world of the play so that the stakes feel higher for her.

She talks about it—in the opening monologue, she talks about how she learned to read and how she has this pamphlet that she wants to be published. She also talks about how Jane Anger is a name that she gave herself. Then she plays with it a little bit and says, “Well, not that I'm angry, of course. I'm just a silly little thing. Come on, what would I have to be angry about?”

She's really not allowed to show her anger for most of the play because she has to be handling these men and these egos to get what she wants. It's too dangerous for her to show her anger and to have a moment where it's clear that this there is something under the surface that is surging beneath her.

I said—I was, you know, coming up with different lines to embody that here at the end of this monologue. And Amelia said, “Well, what if I just repeat that question?” So, she says, “Come on, what would I have to be angry about?” And then she takes a beat and she says, in this way that is both very moving and very chilling, she says, “What would I have to be angry about?” And then she says, “I'm off to the printing press.”

But her idea of just, “Let's repeat that question and really sit with it at the beginning of the play,” I thought was completely brilliant

BOGAEV: Let's let that sink in.

MONAHON: Let's let that sink in, and you experience the whole play, after hearing her ask that question, as like repeating a line.

BOGAEV: “What would I have to be angry about?” Only everything.

MONAHON: Only everything.

BOGAEV: That, then as now.

MONAHON: Yeah.

BOGAEV: How did you stumble on the pamphlet?

MONAHON: Oh, I was googling “Shakespearean England women.”

BOGAEV: This is during the pandemic, right?

MONAHON: Yeah, this is like during like June of 2020. And I was just like typing, like, “Women, Jacobean England!”

BOGAEV: In your sweatpants.

MONAHON: Yeah. Yeah. Literally like at my parents' house, like clicking through the pages on Google trying to find something that sparked my imagination.

BOGAEV: While your sourdough starter is bubbling away.

MONAHON: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

BOGAEV: Okay, alright, so you found Jane Anger. And you decided to make her a “cunning woman,” which is a type of medieval folk healer. Or as you have Shakespeare say in your play…

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Ryan Spahn is Francis, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare.]

FRANCIS: What is a cunning woman? Is that like a physician or a barber-surgeon?

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Yes, Frankie, it is like a physician or a barber-surgeon, except they have breasts and make less money.

MONAHON: That's right.

BOGAEV: Great line.

MONAHON: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Then you throw in Jane Anger is also the dark woman of Shakespeare's sonnets! Ha-ha! That is a lot.

MONAHON: She’s a hustler. She wears many hats.

BOGAEV: Yeah. What made you conceive of her this way.

MONAHON: Well, I was so interested in this cunning woman profession. It felt like probably the most empowered thing a woman of that class could do. I was also basing her a little bit on one of the women whom scholars surmise might have been the Dark Lady of the sonnets, who was a Black woman who worked in a whorehouse. And I was like, “Oh, but what if she has left that and found this other profession since then?”

It also—I think when I was writing, it in the peak of COVID and there was so much going around about, like how to take care of ourselves and how to get over COVID. It felt like a really sort of rich profession to throw into the play that she comes in and is sort of someone who benefits, actually, from plague times. From being able to sell people goods and work charms that are basically fake.

I think of her as a hustler and someone trying everything she can to get by with the ultimate goal of publishing this pamphlet.

BOGAEV: This is such a pandemic play in ways that I didn't even realize it. I mean, obviously it takes place during the plague, but here you are describing all the things that were floating around in your head while you were writing.

Were you also, kind of, spurred on by those stories that kept running everywhere about how productive Shakespeare was during plague years, or annoyed? I mean, I got sick of it.

MONAHON: I got sick of it too. I also sort of felt like it was… I think the sentiment was in some ways lovely, but it also felt kind of weird and like this gross capitalist thing to… like, in the first two weeks of COVID, to be like, “Oh, look how many people are in the hospital. It's such a grim time. What a great opportunity to be productive.”

BOGAEV: “And Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague.”

MONAHON: Yeah, exactly.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Ryan Spahn is Francis, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare.]

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: So much pressure, Francis.

FRANCIS: Pressure, sir?

SHAKESPEARE: Yes, pressure during a plague to write something truly unprecedented. Everyone says, “Oh, Will, it’s the plague again. We can’t wait to see what tragedies you produce this time.” 

FRANCIS: Right, right.

SHAKESPEARE: Every time I go into quarantine, they expect me to be more timely and prolific than the last time.

MONAHON: So that was the initial impulse for Frankie and Will, was just like a dumb sketch piece making fun of that, basically.

BOGAEV: Right. Shakespeare with writer’s block and stealing, just changing the spelling of King Lear, in desperation.

MONAHON: Yeah.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Ryan Spahn is Francis, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare, Amelia Workman as Jane Anger.]

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: I shall write a play about a king.

FRANCIS: So fun.

SHAKESPEARE: An aging king and his three daughters.

FRANCIS: I’m obsessed, sir.

SHAKESPEARE: I shall call it King Lear.

JANE ANGER: What?

SHAKESPEARE: I shall speak louder. I shall call it King Lear.

JANE ANGER: You know that’s been written already, right? Written like ten years ago. I think it was Thomas Kyd. Actually, right, I see that you know this because you’re currently holding the manuscript.

BOGAEV: Well, tell me about your Shakespeare, because you did have to bring him to life. What was your raw material that you were working with?

MONAHON: Well, you know, another thing that happened during the pandemic was that the theater industry has started to have a pretty long overdue reckoning with abusive behavior in the workplace. There's a tricky and complicated conversation being had about great art and great artists, and bad behavior and abusive behavior, and when those things intersect.

I thought it was interesting to think of Shakespeare as a bad man. I don't personally, necessarily think that—like, I think someone can write really great plays and be a bad person.

BOGAEV: Can and have been.

MONAHON: Can and have been and will be. Obviously all human beings are good and bad in lots of different ways, and that's sort of reductive. But I was really thinking about, you know, what if he's not charming or romantic? Or, you know, what if he is still a complete genius and also—

BOGAEV: A total jerk.

MONAHON: Yeah. So I was really thinking about that when I wrote it, and I thought that was fun to play with.

I was also reading revenge tragedies, which were a very popular genre. At the time that Shakespeare was alive, he wrote some revenge tragedies and they're just so bloody and campy and ridiculous. I thought it would be fun to, sort of, write in the style of that, but make it a comedy. So, I call it a revenge comedy.

BOGAEV: Okay, so you're adapting the play and you added Jane Anger. What did make you want to add Anne Hathaway to the mix and cast yourself in the role?

MONAHON: Yeah, well, I've said this in another interview, so the secret is out. It’s that I lost my health insurance during the pandemic. I was getting health insurance through Actors’ Equity and I lost it.

BOGAEV: Like so many actors.

MONAHON: Like so many people. I thought, “Well, you know, if this ever got produced, if I wrote a little role for myself, I could start earning health insurance weeks back.” So, I was like, “Well what if Anne Hathaway came on?”

BOGAEV: It's a win-win.

MONAHON: This gives you a really nice insight into my chaotic plot-making as a writer.

BOGAEV: Were you tempted to cast yourself as Jane Anger?

MONAHON: No, no. I felt from the research that I'd been doing that Jane Anger was a Black woman.

BOGAEV: From the start?

MONAHON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. From the start.

BOGAEV: Well, why?

MONAHON: Well, because… I mean, I just had—was sort of taken with this one description of this prostitute named Lucy, who they thought the Dark Lady of the sonnets might have been. I was just, you know, reading the pamphlet and thinking about the language of it, and it just felt like she was a good sort of prototype for the character.

BOGAEV: Also, having Anne Hathaway in the mix actually is a great—balances the play with two women and two men.

MONAHON: No, it actually ended up really kind of, solving the play in the end. Anne Hathaway is sort of also a tribute to the actress Anne Hathaway.

BOGAEV: Oh yes, there are some Anne Hathaway—modern day Anne Hathaway jokes.

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Ryan Spahn is Francis, Michael Urie is William Shakespeare, Amelia Workman as Jane Anger.]

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Anne Hathaway sucks the energy out of a room with her earnestness. She just tries so hard.

BOGAEV: Do you know if she's seen the play?

MONAHON: I think she certainly has not, but Broadway World, during the first production, they would list the play with its full title and then they kept on tagging her, like, accidentally.

BOGAEV: Oh, smart. That's SEO at work. Yeah.

MONAHON: So, in her credits on Broadway World, it would say this play. That was enjoyable for me.

I feel like she has been similar to Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. I feel like Anne Hathaway, the actress, has had to deal with a pretty unfair amount sexist projections. So, there actually felt like there was this relationship between the two women, to me, that felt interesting.

It was sort of similar to the Jane Anger thing where I just combined people. I guess that's what playwriting is, everything is sort of a composite of people you know and ideas that you have.

BOGAEV: And resonances. Yeah. Onion skins.

MONAHON: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: This is your first time writing a comedy. And there's so many jokes in this play. Timing is so critical in farce, which is really what this is. How did you teach yourself, or how did you know how to pace and structure a comedic play and make these decisions about jokes that really are usually made before a live audience? If you're a standup, right, you hone your set.

MONAHON: Well, as an actor, I was in a few pretty traditional comedies. Michael Urie and I met in this revival of Gogol’s The Government Inspector, which Jeffrey Hatcher adapted that we did in New York, like—oh God, I don't know, like five or six years ago. We did that for almost half a year. And I learned a lot in that about jokes and farce on stage.

I think I had an instinct from being an actor. But a lot of it, I was kind of learning on the job. Obviously, as I, like, threw a character in there to give myself health insurance and then sort of justified it in the plot.

I don't know. I definitely, at some point, had to go back—the first draft of the play was, sort of, all jokes and the plot structure was really poor. I had to go back in and really work on the structure and really draw that out.

I was really happy with our production in New York and I was really happy that it was so well-received. But it was thrown up really chaotically. I had COVID for most of rehearsals and had to Zoom in. We didn't have previews, so we didn't actually have the opportunity to do exactly what you're saying, which is just, like, work on the play and improve it in rehearsals while we're also in performances.

We had all this information that we were learning, as I said, about like what jokes just were not funny with the audience. Or what jokes were landing so well and wanted to be expanded even more.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Can you give me an example of some of those jokes that evolved as you workshopped, or ones that landed that you didn't expect?

MONAHON: Oh yeah, there was so much. There's so much that you learn with an audience and in my experience with Jane Anger and also with The Government Inspector, the first week of shows is kind of horrible. Like, it kind of feels like the play just is bad because you haven't found the rhythm yet and it just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Then there's like this magical one performance where something clicks. It's really special, and it's like the whole play changes and it starts to work. But, you have to sort of have to have this, like, ugly week of performances where it’s really not working, to get there.

Some examples… Well, there would be laughs—there would not be laughs in places that I thought were funny. And then there would be…

BOGAEV: Like what?

MONAHON: I just cut something 15 minutes ago in rehearsal, which is when Jane's trying to get Frankie out of the room and she says, “Frankie go thither.” And he cut… he comes closer to her and she goes, “That's hither. I said, thither.” Which I thought was funny, but it just never got a big enough laugh. So, I cut it. I just cut it. This is fresh off the presses.

But then there's another line, like when I came in as Anne Hathaway. Anne Hathaway has been abandoned and she's just so desperate to talk to someone and she's just talking a mile a minute and she says:

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Talene Monahon is Anne Hathaway.]

ANNE HATHAWAY: I haven't been touched in seven years except for this one time when a spider bit me.

MONAHON: Something that I didn't anticipate was that I would get a laugh in the middle of that line. I thought the laugh line was, “Except this one time when a spider bit me.” But I would get a laugh in the middle of the line with, after, “I haven't been touched in seven years.”

So I sort of had to, like, catch breath in the middle of the line for the laugh before continuing. Which it was just like, I don't know if I would've written the line that way if I'd known that the laugh was going to fall there.

BOGAEV: What is funny about, “I haven't been touched in seven years?”

MONAHON: Well, I think she's just desperate. At that point he's set up the exposition that he has basically abandoned her just to live his bohemian artist's life in the city. She comes in and she is—she's sort of like this adult child, dull child. Like, she doesn't really know how to speak to people in a normal way

[CLIP from Jane Anger at the New Ohio Theatre, New York, 2022. Talene Monahon is Anne Hathaway.]

ANNE HATHAWAY: Sometimes I wonder, “Is my husband dead?” And then I read a review of one of his plays and I know that he is not dead. He is important.

MONAHON: And she's just desperate for physical contact and for warmth.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that's interesting that the laugh comes after she says, “I haven't been touched in seven years.” It must have been the way that you say that line and everything that leads up to it.

MONAHON: I guess so, yeah.

BOGAEV: But I guess that's something you can't anticipate.

MONAHON: Yeah. and then, you know, as we went on with the run, we would fool around and come up with different ways of delivering different lines. And ultimately you find the way that sort of gets a laugh and try to go down that road a little bit further.

BOGAEV: So do you have any plans to do more Shakespeare related writing or farce?

MONAHON: No, though I do have a play that's going to be—if all goes according to plan—I have a play that's going to be in New York in March that I've written.

That is sort of a prequel to The Crucible. The characters are just the four girls from The Crucible. In writing this play, I've sort of really delved into a lot of Arthur Miller, which is obviously very different from Shakespeare, but there are some similarities.

BOGAEV: Four girls. You're not going to have Arthur Miller walk on and take him down?

MONAHON: No, no. Arthur Miller's not a character, John Proctor's not a character. It's just the four girls and it… you know, The Crucible starts when Parris finds the four girls doing something in the woods. And the play sort of goes up to that night in the woods.

It's not… I think it's funny, but it's not funny in the same way as Jane Anger. I think it's a little bit darker and weirder and spookier, but I'm really excited for it.

BOGAEV: Well, I wish you luck. I can't wait to see it. And thank you so much for this.

MONAHON: Oh, thank you. It's been so much fun to talk.

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WITMORE:
That was Talene Monahon talking with Barbara Bogaev. Monahon’s play Jane Anger runs at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., through January 8th. You can find tickets and more information at ShakespeareDC.org.

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Andrew Logan in Washington and Jenna McClellan at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

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Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu.

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.

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