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An interview with a Queen Margaret

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Now, back to Suffolk.

Yes.

Shakespeare gives us a lot of bizarre moments in his canon, with Titus Andronicus having most of them.

Yes.

But you get to walk on stage with Suffolk’s head, making love to his head.

That’s so much fun. So creepy. So creepy.

How did you approach that scene?

I guess I’ll talk a little bit about it technically, first. Because it was in the Ren Season, it’s my prop and we’re in charge of getting our own props. We don’t have a whole lot of heads to choose from. I think we need to invest in good heads. Good heads are hard. It’s hard for them not to be funny.

They did a good job with Jeremy’s [Jeremy West, who took over playing York in Part 3].

Yes. Jeremy took a mask class when he was in grad school recently, so he already had the mold of his face from that mask class. Then we got a bunch of latex and he, on some days off, made that. So, it’s an actual cast of his face, which helps also. And it’s a little bit further off, it’s up on the balcony, so you can get a little bit of perspective there and you can get away with a little bit more. But that is definitely one of the best heads that we have. The others, we’ve had to sort of make do with taking Styrofoam heads that we use to set wigs on and transforming those with clay. The two heads that came out for Part 2 last year in the Jack Cade scene, Allison Glenzer [one of the actors in the troupe] made with Styrofoam heads, modeling clay from Wal-Mart, and jelly beans cut in half for the eyes. It was a Frankenstein from whatever we had to make it, but we don’t have the resources for that kind of thing.

So I had to find a head. I used the one that we had used from Macbeth, which had been tarred over, so it didn’t matter so much the features, and then wrapped it in a bloody cloth so it would be more like holding this infant. And I bloodied the cloth myself. As I made my own props, I’m already thinking about what it’s going to look like, what is the picture that I want, how do I walk out that door, when is the first moment that I want the audience to see it. I walk onto the stage alone, so I came out of the door backwards and then turned around. Sometimes it got a laugh, but that was less frequent than people just kind of shocked: stunned silence.

And Margaret is clearly upset. I think that is the point where she is most out of sorts. That’s where she doesn’t know what to do next. She’s so devastated by the loss, and doesn’t seem to care that she’s walking around with her lover’s head in front of her husband, in front of people while wars are going on, messages are coming about troops and armies and people trying to take over, and she’s not able to think of anything but Suffolk. In fact, in that scene she says, “Ah, were Suffolk here, these people would never have a chance.” She can’t even think beyond the loss that’s just happened to her. That’s different than even you see her in Part 3 after Ned gets killed, because after Ned gets killed, she says, “Kill me, too.” When she loses Suffolk, I really don’t think she knows what’s next yet.

The scene after that is the scene that we played up above in the balcony; Henry is speaking, and again he’s doing one of his lovely poetic, “I was crowned at nine months old, I wish I could just be a man.” In that scene, Margaret has no lines, but she’s written to be there with him. I thought that was fascinating. For Margaret to be in a scene where she has nothing to say is rare. That is rare. Even if she is biding her time for certain people to leave before she speaks, she ends up getting a word in. Always. There are no lines for her in this very short scene. So I chose to play that scene very despondent and not even looking at the king, just staring out forward. Being there, playing the role of, “Yes, I’m the queen and I need to stand by my king,” but I think that is the point where she really is lost. And she doesn’t get it back together until the end of that play when she’s going, “You know, we’ve got to get the hell out of here,” and he’s going, “We can just stay,” and I’m like, “No, again, now we’ve got to move.” So she snaps out of it by the end of Part 2.

For getting ready for it back stage, I would just stand with the head, and it didn’t actually take much to work myself up to being distraught and upset. I would stand with the head in as quiet a place as I could be, because, in the meantime, there’s all of our offstage battle noises and things like that. So I just found a little corner where I could stand, and I would very carefully wrap it and hold onto it and go on and do that scene. It didn’t take much to get where I needed to go; it was a woman who had lost her love walking on stage with his head

When we were rehearsing it, Miriam Donald, who played a messenger in that scene, comes in and takes a knee, delivers her news, and then she looks at me and goes “AGGHHH!” She lost her line, and she’s like, “I have to remember not to look at you in this scene because it is too freaky.” She’s trying to deliver this message, and I’m just standing there with the head. So in performance she would never look at me. She would make it a point to look at every one else on stage except for me. She’s like, “I can’t acknowledge you with that head; I don’t know what to do with that.”

The others are looking at you.
Yeah.
I still can picture René’s look. It’s this precious…
“What the hell is wrong with her?”
Yeah.
Yeah. That’s normal. I feel like that’s a normal reaction.

When I’m reading the scene, I’m going, “What’s everybody else doing? They’re all there.” It’s such a bizarre scene to read. And it was great to see it staged because it was like they suddenly realized what she’s doing, and has she been doing this all along?

Yeah, that’s what I thought about. How long has she been carrying this head around? Is this day one, is this day seven? Is it starting to smell? I’m not sure, you know? But she’s still the queen, so it’s not like anybody can go, “You know what, time to put that away, baby.” [Laughs] “Maybe we need to bury that with the rest of the body, just have a nice monument.”

[This question and answer came in a follow-up e-mail.] In that scene, Henry says, “Still lamenting and mourning Suffolk's death? I fear me, love, if that I had been dead, thou wouldst not have mourned so much for me.” Margaret answers, “No, my love, I should not mourn, but die for thee.” I remember being shaken by that response when you played it, seeing and hearing all sorts of double-or-more meanings in the way you said it and the look you darted Denice’s way. What was going on in that line when you guys did it? 

I absolutely wanted all of the layers in the reading of that line that would be humanly possible. It’s such an interesting response in this surreal scene. I think that Margaret on one level is trying to placate Henry a bit, trying to remind him of her allegiance and loyalty to him and the throne, albeit while she is holding the severed head of her lover. I think she is saying that she would die for him, or at least for what he represents: power, the throne. But I also think that she is saying that she would rather die for him than have to be around to mourn properly for him. I think at this point, playing the part of a mourning queen would be just that for Margaret—playing a part. It would be an acting job that she would be up for, but her mourning for Suffolk is real—there's no acting going on there. I think that line is working on so many levels, and I am really glad to hear that some of them played for you as an audience member. It can be difficult sometimes to infuse Shakespeare's super-rich text with all of the possible meanings, but it’s always a challenge worth taking on.

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