And Then There’s Jane… Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn Star Together in “JANE ANGER”!

Who was “Jane Anger”?  She was a writer living in sixteenth century England who published the pamphlet Jane Anger, Her Protection for Women.  The pamphlet was an early feminist rebuttal of society’s treatment of women as less than equal to men.  As you may have guessed, in 1589 this was still quite a revolutionary idea.  Jane Anger is also the titular character of Talene Monahon’s play The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard… or simply JANE ANGER for short. In JANE ANGER, directed by Jess Chayes and now playing at Manhattan’s New Ohio Theatre, Amelia Workman portrays “that Cunning Woman”: the author whose sole known written work survives as one of the strongest calls for nascent feminist ideals in Shakespearian times.  

Speaking of Shakespeare… Michael Urie portrays the Bard himself in Monahon’s play, tantalizingly described as “an Anachronistic Jacobean Feminist Revenge Comedy”.  Playing Shakespeare’s unpaid apprentice/companion Francis (I’m not sure if “Francis” is based on a real person!) is Ryan Spahn.  In JANE ANGER, Urie’s vain Will Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block. He and Francis, an aspiring performer, are quarantined together as the bubonic plague rips through London.  In real life, Urie and Spahn are used to spending a lot of time together: They have been partners since 2008.   Rounding out the cast of JANE ANGER is the playwright Talene Monahon herself as Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s neglected wife.  

While in the middle of JANE ANGER’s seven-show-a-week schedule, Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn took the time to speak to Lavender After Dark about bringing the Bard back to life in 2022, working together as a couple, whether the OTHER Anne Hathaway has seen the show, and more…

JR: Hello, gentlemen. Congratulations on the new show!  During the lockdown, the two of you have spoken often about the Importance of Being Creative during the bubonic plague– ahem, I mean, during the c-word pandemic.  Was JANE ANGER (the play, not the real life woman…) one of the creative results of the quarantine?

RS: Thank you so much! We are grateful to be a part of Talene’s wonderfully funny and smart play. And yes, JANE ANGER was totally born out of the pandemic. During early lockdown, there was so much talk around “not wasting this moment to be creative because (Laughs) Shakespeare himself wrote KING LEAR during his pandemic.” While that’s
great for Shakes, many of us were unable to have that kind of a creative spark. Talene, however, is a genius and wrote a short play called FRANKIE AND WILL. The short play spoofed the notion of Shakespeare in lockdown trying to write LEAR while having a case of the writer’s block. It’s very clever. Michael and I performed FRANKIE AND WILL for MCC Theatre’s virtual season, which was a success. From there, Talene expanded the short play into JANE ANGER.

MU: This morning I was reminded that it’s been two years since lockdown, so I went back and looked at my calendar from two years ago and was shocked at how much I had scheduled in the first weeks of quarantine: Zoom after Zoom after Zoom! In those early days we were all in a bit of denial and thinking the time could be super productive (Hey, Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine… You can too!) Talene’s play is such a sizzling indictment of artists forgetting to be humans sometimes. We needed to take a breath before fixing all the world’s problems through art. I longed for the artists’ reaction to the pandemic, and Talene’s play is my favorite example for sure.

JR: That’s great!  Michael, I had the privilege of seeing you in The Temperamentals in 2009.  It was actually the first theater piece I ever reviewed.  I also got to see you in Torch Song. But enough fanboying… It’s been said that performing in a Shakespeare play is a rite of passage for an actor. But what landmark do you feel you personally passed by actually playing the Bard himself?

MU: I love doing Shakespeare plays so much.  There’s nothing richer and more challenging. In JANE ANGER, I get to play Shakespeare as Talene has imagined him.  We know so little about the man that’s it’s hard to create any kind of accurate biography of him– but this silly bombastic version is endlessly fun. And Talene’s language is so dense and
nuanced that one has to play it the same way one plays the Bard’s “on the line.” That is to say, we must think and speak at the same time. There’s very little room for subtext. Like in Shakespeare, pauses or beats must be earned and are rare.

JR: How true!  So, the press has given a lot of attention to the fact that the two of you are partners in real life.  Is it a challenge to be performing together seven times a week?  No matter how devoted two boyfriends are, can there ever be “too much of a good thing”?

RS: It’s been a blast. We love performing on stage together. It’s a gift and has been very special. That said, it poses its challenges.  Mainly it’s about juggling household chores, errands, and dog walking.  Kinley deserves her love and attention. We’d bring her to rehearsals, which eased the load, but once we started performances things got trickier. We pride ourselves – as a couple – on our ability to communicate well, which is why we’ve been together fourteen years.  But, sure, when you work and live together and are basically on the same schedule for weeks on end, that extra communication can make you wanna be like, “Hey Baby, Shhhhhhh!

MU: (Laughs) Same!

JR: (Laughs) The full title of the play is The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard.  Now, that’s a mouthful!  There is an “Anne Hathaway” in the show, played by the playwright Talene Monohan herself.  Have you gotten any feedback from, ahem… the OTHER Anne Hathaway?  Has she seen the show yet?!

RS: I wish. I think Oscar winner Anne Hathaway would get a kick out of the play and Talene’s use of her name. It’s all in good fun, so assuming she has a sense of humor about her celebrity, she’d dig it.  BroadwayWorld posted an announcement of JANE ANGER’S premiere a few months ago, and they hyperlinked the character name of ‘Anne Hathaway’ to the actress Anne Hathaway. So, based on the records of BroadwayWorld, Les Miz’s Anne Hathaway is, in fact, a part of our cast. Perhaps if she has a Google alert on her name, she’d know all about what we’re doing.

JR: (Laughs) Well, we will find out! So… Jess Chayes is a Director who likes to break the rules of traditional theater.  When I saw HOME/SICK and SEAGULLMACHINE, two pieces she directed, I was running out of adjectives for my reviews.  What creative force did she bring to JANE ANGER?

RS: Jess Chayes is a Zen master. Our cast is full of clowns, which is great for building comedy, but you need an anchor to keep things real.  Jess did that. She’d sit behind the table – behind her face mask – and nod quietly when something worked, and kinda blink and tilt her head when it didn’t. Because of her strong, relaxed vibe, the cast was able to keep the fun, explorative energy alive on stage. Jess is a gem.

MU: I loved being in the rehearsal room with Jess.  She gave us so much freedom to play, and always knew what we needed when the playing wasn’t enough. She’s a new play virtuoso. and adeptly found the twists and turns of our arcs within the play.

JR: Wow!  Anything else you would like to tell the masses?  Besides, of course, “BUY YOUR TICKETS!”?

RS: Well, not to be braggy, we were just highlighted as “High Brow” by New York Magazine, so – you know – be “high brow” with us. You have two more weeks!

MU: We’ve all been through major trauma, enduring two years of a global pandemic. For any artist or art lover, that meant a certain amount of stagnation: We didn’t get to explore our NOW through art, or take in how artists interpreted the NOW. There are few plays onstage today that will make you laugh, make you think, AND reflect on the trauma we experienced during the last two years of isolation, upheaval, and inequality. JANE ANGER does that!

JR: I can’t wait to see it!  Thank you so much for speaking with me!

JANE ANGER continues through Saturday, March 26. Performances are Monday and Wednesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2PM & 8PM, and Sunday at 2PM. Running time is 95 minutes, no intermission. New Ohio Theatre is located at 154 Christopher Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets in the West Village — accessible from the #1 train to Christopher St. or A/B/C/D/E/F or M train to West 4th Street. Tickets are $25 – 45, available at www.JaneAngerPlay.com.

(Photos by Valerie Terranova.)

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