'Women of Will' review: A feminist bard

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Tina Packer, left, and Nigel Gore in the

Tina Packer, left, and Nigel Gore in the commercial Off-Broadway production of Tina Packer's "Women of Will" at the Gym at Judson. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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For more than 30 years, Tina Packer has been the founding director and force of nature behind Shakespeare & Company, a popular institution in Lenox, Mass. For at least 15 of those years, she has also put her curiosity, intelligence and no small amount of eccentricity into an exploration of Shakespeare through his evolving sensibilities about women.

Now in her mid-70s, the British-born transplant is making her overdue New York debut as playwright, actor and friendly mentor with "Women of Will" -- a beguiling, enlightening oddball of a performance and master class in Shakespeare and the socio-economic psychology of gender politics. Comfortably ensconced through the spring in the historic, ramshackle arts sanctuary at the Judson Church, Packer and invaluable co-star/sidekick Nigel Gore bring us happily into a selective five-part division of the plays and their increasing understanding of women.

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She morphs from matron to Peter Pan, from ingénue to crone with chopped red hair, pants tucked into boots and a long tunic for metamorphosis. Sometimes she dances on the edge of women's-studies-speak. Sometimes she is too amused with her own humor. But the three-hour overview has insights and pleasures that make good sense and equally clarifying theater. Later in the season, she will explain each of the five divisions in separate full evenings. The attitude is casual, the discipline is fierce.

WHAT "Women of Will"

WHERE Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson St., Manhattan

INFO $75; 212-352-3101; women-of-will.com

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BOTTOM LINE Enlightening and enjoyable oddity about Shakespeare's women

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