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An interview with a Queen Margaret

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Do you see Margaret the character anywhere else in Shakespeare?

[Pause] Um, I think there are—ah, hmmmm.... I think there are shades of her. I think there are definitely shades of her in Tamora. I think there are shades of her in Lady Macbeth. I think there are shades of her in Cleopatra. I think those strong, female women, the people who are just—I mean, Cleopatra, she is definitely—that’s one that I want to play. She’s another woman who’s not afraid to make her own rules and be in a man’s world and feel completely comfortable, whereas Lady Macbeth is a little bit more subtle and manipulative about it.

And a tad pathological.
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]

But there’s not anybody that gets the scope Shakespeare’s given Margaret. And it’s funny to me, too, because I feel like she’s often overlooked. I think that even if you talk to Shakespearean actresses, and ask them what roles do you want to play and what roles do you admire, Margaret very rarely comes up. It’s probably because these plays are done so infrequently, and because people hear a history title and they go “Ewwww! that’s got to be really boring.” But these Henry VI plays are anything but boring, and they have this great female role in it. I think typically when you ask actresses what are the roles that you want to play before you die, Lady Macbeth is definitely up there. Maybe Rosalind because she’s got the highest line load of any female role. So, yes I just think Margaret gets overlooked.

And now that you’ve played her, you’re championing her.

Absolutely. Absolutely. You get to go through so much playing this woman, especially if you get to play her—if you are lucky enough to play her—in all three parts; and separate productions of all three parts, because a lot of places will conflate the plays. That, I’m sure, is exciting to do it all in one night. But because nobody is going to sit there for six hours, you’re going to have to cut some things, and it’s going to be hard to get the full range of what’s going on with her throughout these plays. She gets to go through so much. And that’s just a rare opportunity to be able to do that.

How does the fact that it was in the Ren Season affect your Margaret?

Because it’s also the fourth play and, in all three years that we’ve done Henry VI, it’s been in that fourth play slot, which means that you’re only going to get, counting dress rehearsal and preview, ten performances of it total. That’s nothing, really. Here, that’s nothing. In other companies, that’s significant, but here that’s really nothing. So, it’s different because I don’t get to live with her as long as I would like to. And because we don’t have a director and because we have to make these choices quickly, I have to really streamline what I’m going to do. I don’t get a whole lot of time to think about the different options or even try those out on audiences. I have to make some pretty quick decisions, based on the text and based on what I’m getting from my fellow actors of what story we’re going to tell. There’s not a whole lot of time to just sit around and go, “Hmmm ...Well, I wonder if.....” Because we just don’t have the time, and we’ve already put up three plays, and we’re looking to put up another one after that.

Do you think all of that helps?

I think it changes things. I don’t know that it helps. Sometimes I really wish for more time. And I wish for more time in front of an audience. Sometimes I’m very grateful that I don’t have it because, especially in a Ren Season, people can get to talking about what everybody wants, and there’s no outside person to go, “No, actually this is the story that we’re going to be telling. So, great, I like your idea there but we’re not taking that and we’re going to do this.” So, when you get a play like Henry VI that’s got all these factions and everybody is sort of volleying for what they want and what they think the story is ...
A real War of the Roses going on among the actors.
Oh, it absolutely is. We just had our benefit concert on Sunday night. Ben had his suit jacket on and walked past the women’s dressing room, and I looked at him and I said, “Really?” Because he had this huge white rose on his lapel. And I was like, “Are you serious? Really? All right!” So I had to put a red rose in my hair, and Miriam had to put a red rose in her hair. It’s like, “If we’re drawing the lines at the concert tonight, then fine, it’s on! You’re not going out there with a white rose and I go out there with nothing. A******!” [Laughs] But it’s always in the best of fun.

But when you’re talking about what’s the story like, there’s so many factions right there that all think their thing is the most important thing. So, the fact that we have a limited amount of time, we have to cut down on that blah-ba-blah that can happen in the rehearsal room and we really have to make decisions quickly.

Plus, we’ve got violence to deal with. We had to make sure that we had time every day to rehearse those fights. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened, and they wouldn’t have been as good. And, they’re obviously required by the text. You need something to happen. It could be two passes with the sword and then somebody’s dead, but that’s not as much fun. We really wanted to set up the violence of this world. So all of that together just didn’t give us much time for dilly-dallying and saying, “Well I really think that the motivation might be…” I think it helps in that way, where you are forced to streamline because time is a constraint.

There are themes, but Shakespeare was still a little shaky, and only in this part is he beginning to develop the imageries, and in Richard III he really is getting his act together.
So it’s not so much a thematic arc, it’s this happens, this happens, this happens, this happens, this guy shouts this, this guy shouts that, this woman shouts this. So for a play like this—I’ve seen Henry VI two other times and conflated—and to come here and see Part 1 two years ago, I was so excited because to me I felt like I was in that first 1592 audience, because of the way you guys did it in the Renaissance style. I felt that there was this urgency, this throw-it-to-the-wind thing. And here are these big speeches; it’s not at all natural for you to get up there and shout these lines about the tears and "my brother I will avenge"—Clifford [played by Chris Johnston] doesn’t act normal.
No. [Laughs]
And here’s York about to die and he’s doing this wonderful speech that makes Oxford [played by Paul Jannise] cry.

Yes. Well, it’s Oxford in this. It’s Oxumberland, basically, because we had to cut Northumberland out of this because we just didn’t have the personnel.
So, it’s Paul crying...
Yeah [Laughs].
And you believe that he would cry at this speech. That’s why I’m wondering if for the Henry plays the Renaissance format is the best way to do it.

Henry the Sixes in particular? Yeah. I don’t know how they would be different with a director because Jim is typically our director here, and he’s very open to our ideas, which is not to say that we get to do whatever we want, but for the most part if we feel strongly about something, he’s open to that.

And he’s a keep-it-on-the-text kind of director.

Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.

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