Review: 'By the Queen' Brilliantly Brings Shakespeare's Queen Margaret to Life
Will Demers READ TIME: 3 MIN.
Once again Trinity Repertory Company examines Shakespeare; but this time is quite different. Taking a strong female character that appears in no less than four plays sounds like a daunting task. And it sounds like a very, very long night of theater. However, two skilled people are at the helm, Whitney White, a Brown/Trinity MFA alum who appeared in many productions as an actor, found a new passion for writing and direction as well. The other is Brian McEleney, who's been a company member for over 40 years and has directed and performed quite a bit of Shakespeare in his time.
White, who penned "By the Queen," focuses her lens on Queen Margaret (or Margaret of Anjou) at three different stages in her life. Margaret is unique in that she is the only female character in Shakespeare's History plays. She first appears in "Henry IV part 1," albeit in the closing scenes. The Duke of Suffolk chooses her to marry Henry IV in in the play's second part, but she falls for the Duke and they have an affair in secret. In "Henry V," Margaret has slain the heir to Henry's throne and starts a war despite a peaceful pact between England and France. Ransomed back to France, she appears in "Richard III" as a prophetess.
In "By the Queen," McEleney directs three fabulous women in scenes from these Shakespeare history plays: Fiona Marie Maguire as Margaret 1 (making her debut here,) Rachel Christopher as Margaret 2 ("The Heidi Chronicles," "Crime and Punishment") and Paula Plum as Margaret 3 (also making her Trinity debut).
The set design by 40-year Trinity veteran Michael McGarty brings a grand ballroom complete with central table on which many feasts take place; a staircase and grand columns. Scattered about are small cafe tables and chairs that audience members are encouraged to view the drama from. Plum launches the show as the "oldest" Margaret, and she is delightfully playful as the wisest; Christopher soon appears as the second, like a Diva; and Maguire lastly as the youngest.
Portraying various men (and women) is a collection of more talent. Resident actor Mauro Hantman (who's been a member since 1999,) Taavon Gamble ("The Inheritance," "Oklahoma"), Jeff Church (most recently seen as George Bailey in Gamm's "It's a Wonderful Life"), Jaquan Malik Jones (his debut here) and Matthew Russell ("The Grapes of Wrath").
In a Greek chorus style, each male character examines Queen Margaret's actions with a bit of actual dialogue as well as fantasy musings about what she must have felt. As a young girl she muses about the first meeting with the King. As her older self she spouts truths about her intentions as well as wondering whether she was truly THAT impulsive. And the Margaret in the middle? She is resplendent in a purple gown and matching boots, turning out to be the most cynical of all, perhaps because she's at the age to recall just what she was after. White cleverly weaves these elements together in a tapestry that at the beginning seems as scattered as the cafe tables, but in the end it's a fascinating examination of one of Shakespeare's strongest and most-written-about women. Her voice is strong, and this "Queen" takes us through her life with everything intact.
"By the Queen" is running through February 12 at Trinity Repertory Company 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903. For information or tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com.