SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS by Jean Trounstine

SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS

The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An inspiring story of life behind bars.

In 1988, Trounstine began to teach acting to a group of women inmates at a Massachusetts prison. She began tentatively, an oddball experiment in a hard-to-crack place, but her attempts were successful: not only did she learn, as the old saw goes, that the teacher learns as much from her students as they learn from her, she realized that even in jail, theater can transform lives. The Taming of the Shrew moves Kit to think about the lover she would have followed anywhere (until, “kaboom,” he left her). Gloria complains that Shakespeare is “white man’s theater” (Trounstine suggests that it’s not, as long as a mixed-race group of women are performing it). Dolly, moved by The Merchant of Venice and its pound of flesh, says she would die for a friend. Rose connects with Shylock—after reciting his famous monologue, she says that she knows he is hurt, even though he is trying to cover up his pain with anger. Bertie plays Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, and afterwards she writes in her journal, “I know now I am somebody.” We learn not only what the women think of Shakespeare, but also what they think of their prison lives. Dolly goes to Shattuck (Boston’s hospital for the incarcerated) for a breast exam, but, after spending all day in a holding cell, she never gets to see a doctor. And we learn some shocking details about the inmates themselves: the beautiful, sassy, Jamaican Bertie (whose journal entries occasionally sound like Emily Dickinson) killed her four-month-old baby. Occasionally Trounstine descends into pop-psychology victimization (the women here were invariably hurt by a “society that favors others”), but for the most part she is clearheaded and unsentimental.

On the whole, a generous, revealing, honest account.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-24660-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000




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