Last Tuesday in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, “Virgins to Villains,” a one-woman performance poorly attended by students but very popular with the over-65 crowd, struggled with campy humor but ultimately proved itself to be a touching and funny narrative.
In “Virgins to Villains,” Robin Goodrin Norli, veteran actress of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, serves as the protagonist of her own tale. Told through the lens of the various female characters from Shakespeare plays that she has portrayed through the years, the show is at times goofy, wry and stirring.
“Virgins to Villains” isn’t your classic one-woman show, in which one actress portrays various roles. Instead Norli remains herself throughout, save for when she slips into Shakespearean monologue to highlight parts of her life.
Simply dressed in a long gray skirt and black shirt, she eases into each role seamlessly. She begins by telling the story of her first Shakespearean part, Bianca in “The Taming of the Shrew,” which set the stage for her lifelong passion.
Though some of her jokes in the early part of the show are amusing — she tells her drama teacher she “just need[s] more rehearsal” after having her first kiss onstage — she oscillates between an almost documentary-like tone and a high-pitched exaggerated voice when she is laying down jokes. The effect is startling and makes the performance seem unnatural at first.
However, Nordli soon reveals profound connections between her work in Shakespeare and the way she reflects upon her life. After college at the University of Oklahoma, she was offered a big role as Desdemona in “Othello,” but she turned it down for her lemon of a first husband. Noting that Shakespearean comedies usually end in a marriage and a dance, she sighs, “If this was my dance, it wasn’t going so well.” It’s moments like these that truly show her humanity, lending depth to the performance.
Clearly a talented and versatile actress, Norli navigates her territory with panache. Once the audience gets into the rhythm of the show, it is a rather enjoyable experience. Following Norli’s journey through high school, college, three marriages (she recites Sonnet 18 when talking about her current husband) and her MFA in theatre is a fun way to understand how Shakespearean women — who range from the timid to the bold, from the virgins to the villains — have helped her reflect upon her own life experiences.
Contact Madeline Macleod at mmacleod ‘at’ stanford.edu.