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An Interview with Olivia and Maria

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So, what's your take on Shakespeare's take on women?

I think he recognizes, at least in his day, what little power they have but sees them as every bit as human as the men. Their power is behind the scenes. I think he's very sympathetic toward women in his time.

Do you think he's sympathetic for our time?

Yeah, I think some of the choices that the women in his plays have to make are hard for us to understand.

Like Isabella.

Like Isabella, like the women in Two Gents. Like poor Helena in All's Well, and Marianna. They make choices that just don't sit with us in our postfeminist feminist society. It's uncomfortable. But they're written with a great deal of sympathy.

When we do the all-girl Shakespeare at Taffety Punk, one of the things that is always really striking, the women who are playing some of the larger men's roles—and I still tend to play women in the all-girl Taffety Punk shows—they'll talk about how the men's lines are structured so differently. The way they're written are really different, and if you're used to playing women, it can be really hard to learn those parts. The women kind of save it up, and then when they have something to say, it's all really well thought out. It's almost like they've been thinking it for a long time and now is their opportunity to speak and say what needs to be said. The men are figuring it out as they go because they're running the show, they're thinking on their feet, they're making decisions as they need to. The women are standing back and stepping in when they must. So the way the women think is very different from the way the men think.

And if you grow used to, "OK, here's my argument all laid out for me," and that's how you approach those roles and you go in and play a man's role and it's all jumbled and topsy-turvy, it can be really hard to learn the part.

That leads into the next question I was going to ask. You mentioned that Shakespeare was very sympathetic toward women. Do you think he had insights into women?

I think he had insights into people, including women.

And men.

And men. Yeah, I guess it's as simple as that; he was insightful into how people work. He took people for what they were. There's not a lot of judgment on many of his characters. Even characters like Malvolio who are easy to dislike for some of the things they do, Shakespeare makes you care about them by the end.

Any other insights you've gotten on Twelfth Night? You've kind of put Olivia behind you.

Yeah, I had to sort of let that go, as much as I didn't want to. I really loved playing Olivia. There are roles that I'm really excited to play and then when you do, you realize it's not as fun as you thought it would be.

Like what?

Like Ophelia.

I've only seen one really good Ophelia. It's a hard role.

It's a hard role and it can't all be about the mad scene.

That's the problem: Is she strong or is she not?

Yeah. Hero's another one like that.

Yes, but I've seen a couple of good Heroes.

I've seen some great Heroes, but it's the same thing. And Olivia was one—I was excited to play her, I had wanted to play her—but on the surface, I thought, "Well, she could end up being sort of boring," and she wasn't at all. She fascinated me.

What about Maria? Do you find her as fascinating?

I understand her a little better. Olivia, I had to figure out. I understand Maria more.

What does that say about you?

I have no idea, I don't want to know.

The secret to Maria is that she's always ready to have fun. She's not complicated. She wants to have fun. She loves this guy for better or for worse. Well, he is what he is. And she does her job. She gets caught up in this revenge plot, but even that is to have fun, you know: "It would be really fun if we could totally humiliate him, because he deserves it. If we can make him think his mistress loves him, it will be hilarious. And then we're going to act like he's possessed of the devil, because it will be hilarious."

But she doesn't stay in the gulling scene.


That's what I find interesting. I guess we shouldn't speculate on why.

I don't know. Somebody's costume change probably had something to do with it. I'm playing it this time where I'm right outside the door, waiting for [Malvolio] to leave so I can come in and find out what happened. Because it is a little odd that she's not observing her own handiwork for whatever reason.

Would you ever want to play Viola?

Yeah. Why not play all three? I would. I've never—I don't know if it's a physicality thing or energy thing—but I've never ever been considered for Rosalind or Viola. I've always been auditioning for the other parts. Of the two, between Rosalind and Viola, I'd rather play Viola, if I had to choose between them. Viola is more interesting to me. Her relationship with her brother and the sadness about losing him that is sort of woven throughout the play is really beautiful, and it makes the reunion resonate so well. I've never gotten through a production of Twelfth Night where that doesn't make me cry. Even on stage when I'm not supposed to. [Laughs] I just think it's one of the most beautiful scenes in Shakespeare. I love it.

If you're playing any other kind of Olivia, you could have cried.

Yeah. That Olivia was thinking, "How does this affect me? Does this mean I'm not married anymore?"

Will you be able to cry as Maria?

I'm not on stage for it, so I can do it. I can listen and cry back stage.

One of the things that was interesting to me as I was going in to play Maria: When I got cast in the show, so many people said, "You're way too young to play Maria," and I thought, that's a really strange comment. But people kept saying it to me. So I started looking at past productions, and at some point in history, people started feeling that Maria was a lot like the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, so she needed to be older, I guess. I was reading about it and somewhere in the '50s and '60s, Olivia became an ingénue and she never had been before, so they made Maria like her nurse and that was the style for a really long time. Which explained to me why people thought I was too young to play Maria, because there's nothing, nothing in the text that suggest she's old. The only descriptions of her are that she's little. They talk about how little she is all the time. All of Toby's nicknames for her are about little birds or being the runt of the litter and things like that. Except when he calls her Penthesilea, all of his nicknames are about her being small. That's the only description about what she might be like physically. So it was curious to me that people think of her as old.

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