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In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.
Hannah Kennedy is Mary’s lady-in-waiting, nurse, servant, mother-figure, and friend. She is fiercely loyal and protective, almost to the point of denial of any kind of guilt on Mary’s part. She is also pragmatic and realistic, and tries to keep Mary’s feet firmly on the ground in her moments of romantic rapture. By the end, however, it is Mary’s strength that keeps Hannah from crumbling in the face of grief and injustice.
What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?
So many to choose from! I am going to pick a line/image from one of Mary’s speeches to Elizabeth, where she describes herself and her erstwhile hopes:
All my ambitions creep along the ground.”
I love the image of Mary as a lapwing…a bird so often to be seen on the Scottish moors. And what is so compelling about this is, of course, that the lapwing only appears broken. It “acts” broken, to lead predators away from its nest, and is therefore astonishingly strong. Is Mary truly broken? Or is she still hiding something? We know by the end that she is strong. Is she so strong that she can even go to her grave without giving everything away? This question is very much the crux of the encounter from which this quote is taken, and not resolved until the very end of the play, if at all.
So it is a beautiful, but also a clever image.
What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play?
As with the previous question…so many, so many! But for the purposes of this blog, I think I would isolate the notion that Hannah is both very like me and very UNLIKE me. I have to focus on her forthrightness, her down-to- earthness, her absolute will to appear…and be…strong, where Cate would probably give in and let go much sooner and more often. Of course Hannah does let go also, but she and I have a very different tipping point.
If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?
Well, speaking from my character’s point of view, Hannah’s love for and loyalty to Mary is so powerful that, although it is NOT by any means a romantic or sexual love, the song/poem that comes to mind is of course Robbie Burns’ “ A Red, Red Rose.” I think many people felt this way about Mary, both before and after her death, and of course that is what Elizabeth could not tolerate.
Here is my favorite version, by Kenneth McKellar (I defy you not to weep!):
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?
My father, Allan Nicol, was a Scotsman. Hannah’s idiolect is based on his. He died, unjustly and innocently, in a senseless road accident when I was a little girl. His absence in my life has been as real as any presence. I would dedicate all Hannah’s words, and love, to him.
Balancing the world of Elizabeth l with a contemporary sensibility, this production of Mary Stuart will feature an original score, composed by world renowned musicians Gayle and Philip Neuman. Recorded on Renaissance instruments, many of them built by the couple, then remixed electronically by sound designer Sharath Patel, the score is an uniquely provocative musical landscape that spans over the centuries supporting the story’s examination of women in power, then and now. Here’s a photo of the master musicians at work recording their original score!
Northwest Classical Theatre Company and Cygnet Productions join forces to bring the Portland premier of the multi-award winning drama, Mary Stuart by Peter Oswald on Feb 27th- March 29th, 2015 at the Shoebox Theatre.
Nominated for 7 Tony awards in 2009, Mary Stuart, based on the original 19th Century classic by Friedrich Schiller, is a taut political thriller that examines the cost two women must pay when forced to choose between power and love.
Mary Stuart, a staunch Catholic, is imprisoned in England—nominally for the murder of her husband, Darnley, but actually because she has pushed her claim to the throne of England currently held by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s advisors urge her to sign the death warrant before Mary’s supporters succeed. The pen is poised when a request from Mary to meet her in person arrives, offering Elizabeth a possible way out and a chance to meet her famously beautiful cousin who threw her power away for love.
Starring two of Portland’s most powerful and multi-Drammy Award winning actresses, Luisa Sermol plays Mary, Queen of Scots and Lorraine Bahr plays Queen Elizabeth I. This production also will feature an original score, composed by world class musicians Gayle- Stewe Neuman and Philip Nueman and a stellar cast of NWCTC seasoned veteran actors.
Director Elizabeth Huffman returns again to NWCTC having directed last year’s critically acclaimed Lion in Winter and winning King John in 2012.
The First Feminist (Slut Shaming) Revenge Drama, or, Agency
(this post contains some plot spoilers, but seeing as the play is over 400 years old, so if you don’t know yet that Bruce Willis is a ghost, you’re a little behind… oh sorry, wrong story?)
Barry Kyle, the director of The Maids’ Tragedy, since first offering me the part of Evadne, has pitched this role and this play to me as the First Feminist Revenge Drama. I know Barry has an interest in gender equity (heck, Barry has an interest in everything), and I also know he is catering to my particular interest in creating art that questions, embodies and creates identity. But this play presents some interesting challenges for being considered Feminist. Let us consider.
What does it mean for a play to be Feminist?*
(*Capital F means I’m talking about the Feminist movement. Lower case f means I’m talking about the general idea of gender equity.)
A quick Google search yields lots of academic papers about the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s and the (relative) surge of performances of plays written by women – from uncovering unsung Restoration writers such as Aphra Behn to new work from playwrights the like of Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane.
Interestingly, most definitions I could quickly find mentioned that the content of many of these plays depicted the oppression of women in a patriarchal world, not depicting a framework demonstrating the alternative to patriarchy by giving women agency. So, one might argue, isn’t a Feminist play really just like any other? A play written from a patriarchal paradigm (no matter the gender of the author) unconsciously places women in roles of oppression, and a Feminist one consciously does so to illustrate a point. Then again, one might argue that in art, intent is the most important ingredient, and furthermore that plays from women’s perspectives are inherently different in ways not called out by these online references.
But, for the purposes of my exploration, I’m interested in the idea that perhaps what makes a feminist* play is the production. And I think this because of the particularly challenging case of The Maids’ Tragedy. I play the character of Evadne, a socialite who has just been placed in a sham marriage to cover up her love affair as the King’s mistress. PLOT SPOILER: She ends up killing the King.
You could argue that this play is Feminist and/or feminist because you could argue that the protagonist is a woman, and that she breaks a cycle of abuse and/or oppression because she kills the King, presumably a symbol of her oppression.
However, the reasons this play, and Evadne’s story, are not any sort of F/feminist are many:
- It is written by two men.
- All female parts would have been played by boys at the time of its first production (1619)
- You can argue the protagonist is a man (Melantius), not Evadne.
- Evadne’s fault is having had (and enjoyed) premarital sex.
- You could argue she kills the king:
- because she is physically and verbally abused and coerced into doing so.
- because he has deflowered her, which is, oh my god, SO TERRIBLE.
- to maintain the honor of her brother (man).
- to obtain the love/acceptance/forgiveness of her husband (man). Via his semen, poetically called “the beams of your forgiveness.” Seriously.
- And once it is all said and done, she kills herself because she has no reason left to live once deflowered and rejected.
What power she does have, is all sexual. I would argue it takes a modern audience to even consider a woman’s sexuality as power, whereas in the good ol’ days, I don’t imagine she would have been a very sympathetic character. When she is called a “whore,” people probably agreed (will they still?).
One idea that has been floated to me is that she is powerful because she knows how to please (or withhold pleasure from) men. It is seen in this exchange:
King: Why, thou dissemblest, and it is in me to punish thee.
Evadne: Why, it is in me then, not to love you, which will more afflict your body than your punishment can mine.
This is not the same thing as sexual agency, which is the choice to give or receive sexual pleasure based on what I (the woman) want, which does not mean disregarding what a sexual partner wants – it means valuing both desires.
This scenario disregards the woman’s ability to take action with any other type of influence other than her Lysistrata sexual veto power. And it totally ignores the fact that women truly have power and agency in many ways: through talent, humor, money, rhetoric, expression, emotion, friendship, and violence, to name a few.
But what is especially interesting to me in the playing of this character is that the discussion of the play as F/feminist has become less and less important over time, and has even hindered the playing of the text as it is actually written. A purely F/feminist reading of the script leaves out the human element – the possibility of love. The truth of being broken through abuse. The reality that sexual desire is messy and certainly not political. The feeling of not knowing who you are; looking inside and seeing nothing, and hating even that. Heartbreak.
These are real things that real people, myself included, experience.
And to me, being a feminist means inhabiting a woman who is all colors of human – including the compliant, powerless, and un-Feminist traits. Whether those traits are inherent or socially created, they are still within modern women, and a modern production with a modern Evadne must embrace them. And it’s what the production of this play seeks to do.
Come see the show and let me know what you think.
-Brenan Dwyer, Evadne
NWCTC and renowned director Barry Kyle shift gears as they plan to stage a rarely seen Jacobean revenge play—THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY.
After considerable deliberation, the Northwest Classical Theatre Company and award-winning director Barry Kyle have opted to postpone their upcoming production of Henry VI, by William Shakespeare. Instead, the company will produce the rarely performed revenge story THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY written by Shakespeare contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.
About the play
A soldier (Melantius), who places honor above all other virtues, returns from battle to discover his sister (Evadne) is betrothed to his best friend (Amintor) at the behest of the King—despite the fact his friend has already sworn his love to another woman (Aspatia). On the night of their wedding it is revealed that the King has arranged the marriage to hide a dark secret, the revelation of which sets off a chain of events that touches every character in the play.
About the production
THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY is the second production in NWCTC’s 17th “Season of Ambition.” It is the first time the company has performed a work by one of Shakespeare’s dramatic contemporaries, but certainly not director Kyle’s first experience with the play. Kyle has directed the title both at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with Sinead Cusack and Tom Wilkinson in his original cast), and in Washington D.C. He has also staged work by John Fletcher, Ben Johnson, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Middleton.
• John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont replaced William Shakespeare as house playwrights for the Globe Theatre. This play is believed to have been written in 1611—the year of Shakespeare’s retirement.
• The play is considered somewhat of an anomaly among Jacobean tragedies, as it has a completely original plot.
• THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY will mark Barry Kyle’s second collaboration with NWCTC. He directed last season’s smash hit Richard III.
• THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY features NWCTC members Tom Walton, Brenan Dwyer, Melissa Whitney, Jason Maniccia, and Grant Byington. It is the final production for outgoing Artistic Director Grant Turner.
Northwest Classical Theatre Company presents:
THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY
By Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
Directed by Barry Kyle
December 5, 2014 to January 4, 2015
At the Shoebox Theatre
2110 SE 10th Avenue
Portland, OR 97214
Tickets are $22 General/$20 Student/Senior at www.nwctc.org
Wait Until Dark
Directed by Bobby Bermea
September 5-October5 , 2014
All Susan wants is a little protection from things that go bump in the night. Too bad her whole world is night. Now a murderous psychopath wants something she’s got. She’s trapped, she’s alone… and she’s blind. Wait Until Dark features Northwest Classical company member Clara Hillier as Susan joined by a collection of familiar faces like Heath Koerschgen, Tom Mounsey, and Steve Vanderzee, and welcomes new guest artists Sam Dinkowitz and Kate Thresher. Director Bobby Bermea is at the helm of this thriller in his NWCTC debut.
All Photos by Jason Maniccia, (c) 2014