Urbanite Theatre Imagines Shakespeare's Sister with Judith

The world premiere play asks us to consider the what-ifs of gender, love and ambition, past and present.

By Kay Kipling January 8, 2024

Livy Scanlon in Urbanite Theatre's world premiere of Judith.

I don’t know for certain if Virginia Woolf, nearly 100 years ago, was the first person to ask the question, “What if Shakespeare had a sister?”  But playwright Katie Bender and actor Livy Scanlon have certainly taken inspiration from her question in Judith, a one-woman piece now onstage in a world premiere at Urbanite Theatre.

I say one-woman, but in reality Scanlon inhabits several characters in this one-act play. Scanlon—who identifies as nonbinary, which likewise plays a role in the play—brings to life not only the imaginary Judith, younger sister of Will, but fellow writer Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, a Dutch midwife and Will himself—each with a different vocal and physical delivery.

Scanlon introduces themselves briefly first before launching into Elizabethan England, where the chances of a young woman such as Judith becoming a writer, as she longs to do, were pretty much impossible. Like most women of the time and place, Judith would have been not very well educated (although brother Will kindly helps her out there), destined for domestic chores and an early wife and motherhood.

But Scanlon engages us from the start in the character’s hopes and dreams, as Judith squirrels away her precious writings in an attic at the Shakespeare home. She faces a deadline of just one week before her father plans to marry her off; meanwhile, Will faces a similar deadline, coming up against the Queen’s Men and possible prison (or worse) for alleged Catholic leanings during Protestant Elizabeth I’s times. (That inclination has been puzzled about for years by scholars.)

Scanlon embodies several characters, male and female, in the show.

What ensues is that Judith heads to London impersonating her brother—just one of several of Bender’s nods to the Bard’s own writings in which suiting up as the opposite gender is a major plot point. Bender’s examination of gender and relationships goes farther, with Judith/Will falling for the Dutch midwife, Agnes, but learning that perhaps there are new ways of being in love.

Throughout it all, Scanlon is adept at switching moods and characters, all while throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the emotions and ideas the play raises. Directed by Brendon Fox, on a minimalist set by Jeffrey Weber that nevertheless affords us various locales in our imaginations, Scanlon is lively, touching and believable as a woman daring to reach beyond the normal to discover more about herself and life in general.  

Judith continues through Feb. 18 at Urbanite. For tickets, visit or call (941) 321-1397.

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