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An Interview with Olivia and Maria

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If you think about that timeframe, especially with the comedies, Shakespeare had two amazing boys to do Viola and Olivia, Rosalind and Celia, because Celia is a great role, too.

Yeah, it is.

And Nerissa and Portia. But each one of those also has another boy in it: Phoebe, Jessica, and Maria.


So he obviously had three boys.

Yeah. He had the people to play it, clearly.

So Maria would be young.

And she doesn't behave like an older woman. She gets into lots of trouble. You know, she's completely irresponsible, along with Toby. She's exuberant, which feels youthful to me.

She's supposed to be helping Olivia and she doesn't, she actually—

Works against her, yeah. But not in important ways. She doesn't interfere with Cesario, I don't think. I think Maria thinks Cesario is the most exciting thing to happen in the house in a long time.

You don't think that "here lies your way"—

Oh, I think she's prompted by Olivia. Like, "Get him out of here." But she doesn't go behind Olivia's back and—

Wait, Cesario calls her a giant.

Yeah, but that's a reference to fairy tales. In the old romances, giants were the obstacles to get through in order to get to the princess.

That's true. She could have called you a dragon, I guess.

She could have. So I guess maybe there's a little pun there because everybody else is calling her a little wee thing.

But otherwise Maria's not really working with Olivia at all.

No. I think Malvolio is the one who keeps the house running. At least in our production right now, Maria's the one who makes sure Olivia looks good. She does her hair, puts her dresses on her, you know? I'm very proud of that work. [Laughs]

You do it well, huh?

Yeah. "Look at you! You look wonderful." But I don't think it's her responsibility to make sure the estate is running. That's Malvolio's job. So she's just completely distracted by the other people in the house when she's not, like, preparing a bath or whatever it is she does for Olivia. She's not working as a go-between to Cesario. Olivia sends Malvolio to do that.

We talked about how you interact with all the other characters. How does Maria feel about Aguecheek?

He's a fool. I find myself, as the play goes on, sort of doting on him, and I have to put a wall there because I don't know if it's James Konicek's performance that tickles me so much or what, but before she meets him, she talks about what a complete fool he is and then they get all wrapped up together, and I think she sort of dotes on him by the end. But, you know, there's nothing you can do for him.

What about Feste?

Ah, good friends. Good friends.

At Taffety Punk, Feste was Death, but they still had the Good Madonna scene.

None of the other characters have a recognition that Feste is Death.

So, either in this production or what you can remember as Olivia—but Olivia doesn't even notice Aguecheek.

Oh, no, he's, pffft. He's not on her radar at all.

He's not even a piece of furniture.

No, barely. Barely.

But Feste has a very special place for Olivia.

The way I thought of it was that Feste is somebody that Olivia grew up with. They've been friends, her father's fool, he's been in her household her entire life. And so his going away when her brother died was a huge betrayal. He has to be important enough to her that it hurts that he's gone, and so she wants to punish him.

It's a play about people who go to extremes, isn't it? Extremes in mourning, extremes in following the rules, extremes in playing a trick.

That's true.

Everyone goes too far.

But we don't think of Twelfth Night in that way. And that Viola seems to be the only one who has a level head, and what's she doing? She's running around being a boy.

Yeah, and that's like the most reasonable thing to be done in the whole play.

So what is it about Viola that you like so much that you'd like to play her.

I think the idea of wooing on behalf of the person you would be married to yourself if you had your choice is interesting. How do you make yourself do a good job? That would be interesting to explore. It's got to hurt a lot. Everything that Viola goes through has to hurt a lot, I would assume. Having not played it I don't really know. She's in mourning that she can't express. She's in love with someone who's in love with someone else, which hurts, but then, on top of that, she has to be the one who does all the wooing.

And she does a pretty good job of it.

She does an excellent job with it. And then all of a sudden these people want to fight her, and she doesn't understand what's going on. She's definitely the straight man in the show. Things happen to her. Which is not to say she's inactive, because she's not.

That's what I pointed out in my review of the Taffety Punk production was how much that came out, where she's just confused, other than the big fish going by—which confused me, too.

It's funny, all through rehearsals I was going "I hate that fish. I hate that fish." And then opening night, the fish got a huge laugh, so it's like, "I guess we're keeping the fish." [Laughs]

What you're talking about Viola is that she's one of the best portrayals of unconditional love.

Oh, yeah. Yeah, she's a great example of unconditional love. I hadn't thought about that.

Well, there's Helena in All's Well, but sometimes I think Helena is just a fool, or Bertram's really got to be good looking.

Yeah, he's got to be really good looking, otherwise, whew! What is there?

Any other characters in Twelfth Night you want to do?

I want to play Andrew now. [Laughs] No, I've been joking that Center Stage is doing Twelfth Night next year and I just need to call them up and say, "Look, you got to help me out here, I need to make it a trifecta."

And if you do, we'll do this again.

OK. It's a deal.

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[For a PDF of this interview, click here]