Imogen Says Nothing by Aditi Kapil is a spinoff story of the character Imogen in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. She’s a character some have interpreted as a typo because she says nothing. However, Kapil turns this character, who serves no purpose in the original, into the main character of a “revisionist comedy in verse and prose” that SMTD describes on their website as a “feminist hijacking of Shakespeare that investigates the voices that have long been absent from the theatrical canon and the consequences of cutting them.” It highlights how women have historically been only seen as an image and deprived of their words. The play not only puts a big emphasis on the power of speech but the power of writing too.
The premise is a bit confusing: Imogen is a bear disguised as a woman and has been living as a woman for a few years. She travels outside of her small village to the bigger cities and along the way gets dragged onto the stage in the middle of a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. In Elizabethan England, all female characters were played by men because only men were allowed to act. As a result, Imogen has to pretend to be a man playing a woman, and that woman is Imogen herself. In other words, she’s a bear disguised as a woman who pretends to be a man acting out a woman.
It has heavy themes of violence and animal abuse and there are explicit drinking and sex scenes. Furthermore, Imogen is constantly degraded for being female and fat; she even says that her only talent is “whoring”. When she is praised, it’s for her ability to make others laugh but it’s usually because she’s mocked for her background and intelligence.
Nevertheless, it’s still a comedy and masks the darker content with humor and fun character dynamics. My favorite character was Nicholas Tooley; in the beginning, others always teased him because he was so innocent and pure, but in the end, he was so sassy and dramatic. It was also really funny when there were modern versions of objects on set. For example, for the alcohol they used White Claw, and when checking their contact information they would pull out their cell phones.
Overall, I highly recommend watching it. It’s a play that’s hard to grasp but fascinating, especially the ending which was the best part. It took a sudden abstract twist that circled back to the underlying message with a single chilling line directed at the audience: “Exit man.”