Men, women and children lined up outside the Folsom Women’s Facility on Sunday afternoon during visiting hours, but not to sit across from their loved ones inside.
Instead, they gathered to see them make prison program history as the first female inmates in California to perform a Shakespearean play in prison.
Thirty visitors and inmates gathered in the quad area just after noon as the 16 actresses and two male volunteers took the stage to perform one of William Shakespeare’s best-known plays, “The Taming of the Shrew.”
The California Shakespeare prison programs are supported by the Marin Shakespeare Co., which began at the San Quentin State Prison in 2003.
Director Lynn Baker-Naunan has been involved with the Marin Shakespeare Co. for nearly four years, working with male inmates at San Quentin and the California State Prison in Solano. Since June, she has been conducting weekly rehearsals and therapy workshops at Folsom – a re-entry facility for women with less than five years remaining on their sentences. The facility is 25 miles east of Sacramento.
“Their confidence has grown and you can see how much they have gained in their own self-worth,” Baker-Naunan said. “They are being seen as something different ... something positive.”
The play is one of Shakespeare’s first comedies, featuring two sisters, Bianca and Katherina. Their father, Baptista, insists that Katherina marry before Bianca can be courted by suitors.
Hot-tempered and independent, Katherina reluctantly plans to marry Petruchio, who attempts to “tame” her.
Inmate Tamsyn Jones, who played Katherina, was very excited before she took the stage Sunday.
“My mom, uncle and aunt will be here,” Jones said. “I was worried about my lines but I’ve managed to memorize them.”
Jones said she was a singer and plans to pursue theater when she is released next year.
“These girls are my roses in the concrete,” Jones said, adding she is thankful for close relationships she’s developed with other inmates in the program.
Lacey Sanchez, 19, said that playing her character, Grumio, helped her become less defensive off stage.
“I’m doing something positive ... I have embraced my fears and I have worked hard to open up,” she said.
Even though “Taming of the Shrew” was written around 1594, many believe the work is timeless.
Scott Jackson, the executive director of the Shakespeare theater program at Notre Dame University in Indiana, said themes of the play, as with all Shakespearean works, still resonate.
“Shakespeare has a certain universal relevance and the themes that are found in his works are still very much in play today,” he said. “Whether it’s jealousy, greed, murder or infidelity, they are still with us.”
Jessica Hice: 916-321-1550, @Jess_Hice