Monday, November 28, 2016

Women in Shakespeare: Joy Richardson as Paulina

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy and even male-only, coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is the second season of my interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work in New York City.

Joy Richardson has worked for over two decades in London's theater. Her big break, at the National, was in a controversial Pericles under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd. Since then, she's played many classic and modern roles, at the National, Shakespeare's Globe, on the West End, and in global tours. Now she's visiting NYC with Cheek by Jowl's Winter's Tale. She's cast as Paulina for the second time, having once played the part at the Globe's inaugural season in 1997. Ms. Richardson emailed with me about the role and other Shakespearean parts for women.

Let’s start with Paulina. What have you discovered about her that you find fascinating?

Paulina is a fascinating character to play. She goes on a huge learning curve throughout the play. When we first meet Paulina, she appears out of nowhere, at a time of great crisis in the kingdom. In trying to make things better, she challenges the most powerful authorities in the land: the King and all his nobles. As terrifying as the consequences might be, she risks her life to do what she believes is right and just. Justice is at the core of her values, and what gives her the strength of her convictions, while others falter.

Which scenes are the most challenging?

Paulina's scenes are all challenging to play, in different ways. She is an isolated figure most of the time. It is often her against the world. Her weapons are words, and her ability to constantly adapt, and so survive. All the while being constantly forced to justify her actions. She has to persuade the men, that she, a woman, knows best, and that good will come of all the years of suffering she puts the King through.

What knots did the playwright leave for you to untangle?

Richardson as Paulina
in Cheek by Jowl's Winter's Tale
The tricky thing for me is that we know very little about Paulina's past life. Even her present personal life is a mystery. But as an actor you cannot leave that aspect of her blank. The little scraps of detail have to be used as the foundation to create a fully rounded human being. Someone with hopes, fears and a detailed history. Otherwise you can so easily make her a mouthy, two dimensional know-it-all. Paulina's is so much more than that. It is a challenge, but fun having that much scope for invention.

Many of Shakespeare’s strong women are a political type—Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Margaret, Lear’s daughters. How does Paulina fit with those characters?

Paulina is a very political animal. She sees the politics in everything. And is brave enough to be visible, even in the face of great danger to herself and her family. In her society, men rule women. It is the men who are appointed to positions of power. And it is with great political skill that she navigates this. It requires great political skill on her part to gain the influence she does, and maintain that power and influence in the face of constant criticism and attempts to undermine her.

Where does her power lie?

This production explores the psychology of power. Power misused and the different ways people respond to the horrendous choices facing them. The struggle with their own values. 'What are you willing to sacrifice for your beliefs?' is the question running throughout the play. Paulina's power lies in the strength of her belief in a better future. She has hope in the future. And she believes she has a crucial role to play to make it happen. Her conviction and self-belief allows her to take a leap of faith, and forces others to do the same.

On an intersecting subject, how does Shakespeare's perspective on Paulina's age affect his portrait of her?

One thing about Paulina is that her beauty and sexuality are not an issue in the play. It is what she says and does that carry weight. This is very unusual in a major female character in a Shakespeare play. When we first meet Paulina, she asks questions, speaks her mind, and publicly condemns all those who do not meet her moral standards. But as the years pass, she is less confrontational and more passive aggressive. She speaks less, but is just as effective. Her determination is still there, and her power has grown. Physically she is weaker, as the years have taken their toll. She has sacrificed everything for what she believes. Age has imbued her with a different kind of energy and determination. She is older, wiser, and has an iron will.

You’ve played Paulina before, at Shakespeare’s Globe in 1997. How has your perspective on the role changed in twenty years?

Richardson as Paulina
at Shakespeare's Globe, 1997
The Paulina I played twenty years ago was completely different to the Paulina I play now. This has largely to do with the company I am working with now, but also because the world is a very different place. Extraordinary events have happened that have left their trace. The certainty I had then seems so naive now. I am twenty years older and I have a whole bundle of new questions to throw at Paulina, along with the previous questions. This Paulina has a tougher job to do in facing down her own demons, before she can deal with other people's demons. But she also has many more strings to her bow. She feels the weight of responsibility for consequences of her actions, but going backwards is not an option. Many things can, and do go wrong, and she is more aware of the possibility of failure.

How does the approach and aesthetic of Cheek by Jowl fit with other Shakespeare you’ve worked on, at Shakespeare’s Globe and elsewhere?

Working for Cheek by Jowl is an education. An opportunity to learn and break old habits. To step outside your comfort zone. It is an amazing company of hugely talented individuals who bring their unique skills and passion to enable actors to tell a story so that it matters. The actor is put at the very centre of every production. And as storytellers, we are continually stretched in new and interesting ways. Focus is also placed on the dynamics of space and time. The space must live, so the word, and the story can be born. Rehearsals continue throughout the run of the show. This is a luxury. With other companies rehearsals end once a show has officially opened. This opportunity to continuously explore the text and make new choices is a rare thing in the world of theatre.

Talking about Shakespeare more generally, in your career you’ve played a variety of his roles, male and female. What’s your perspective on his parts for women?

One exciting aspect of doing a Shakespeare play is his understanding of humanity. Strengths and weaknesses. His characters are multilayered, with endless possibilities for interpretation. Both male and female. The difference between them is the different rules and expectations imposed on them by society. The men are often the protagonists. The movers and shakers. While the women must find endless ways of challenging the restrictions put on them. Sometimes they succeed in their aims and other times, they do not. But there is a whole world that lies in between.

Where are his strengths in depicting them and where are his weaknesses?

Richardson (second from right) with the women
of Cheek by Jowl's Winter's Tale
Shakespeare gives a voice to those facing the injustices of the world. He also gives a voice to the perpetrators of injustice. The argument is never simplistic. So, for an actor, there is a danger in wanting the women to be heroines of our times. Wanting them to be good role models and expecting them to display the values we admire. That is why a play like The Taming of the Shrew is often seen as a “problem play”. At the end of the play, our “heroine” delivers a speech that embraces the very values that enslaves women. This is unpalatable for modern audiences, yet it is a reality that exists now. The spirit of the downtrodden are sometimes broken. After a long battle, her spirit appears to be broken. The play explores uncomfortable truths, using humour. When we laugh we feel complicit. The easy way out is to deliver her final speech ironically. As is often done. Racism, sexism and antisemitism are expressed by characters in the play, but I cannot recall anything in Shakespeare's plays that are beyond salvaging. That perspective misses the point. Exploring these themes is an opportunity to find the depth of what it is to be human.

Do you have any other Shakespearean roles you’d love to play, or to go back to? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

I have always wanted to play Lady Macbeth and Juliet. They do say that by the time you are experienced enough to play Juliet, you are far too old for the part. But why give up on dreams? Prospero and Richard III are also characters I would love to play.


Cheek by Jowl's The Winter's Tale runs from December 6 to 11 at the BAM Harvey Theater in Fort Greene. Tickets are $25-$110.


headshot  Ric Bacon
Cheek by Jowl photos  Johan Persson
Globe '97 photo  UPPA/Photoshot

Monday, November 21, 2016

Women on Shakespeare: Emily Young on The Servant of Two Masters

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy and even male-only, coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is the second season of my interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work in New York City.

As a member of the Fiasco Theater, Emily Young has helped to revitalize Shakespearean staging in NYC. This month, Ms. Young returns to Theater for a New Audience without her colleagues, collaborating instead with Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp. These two illustrious comedians ground their work in the tradition of commedia dell'arte, a semi-improvisational approach that influenced Shakespeare, Moliére, and all Europe for centuries. Carlo Goldoni, an 18th-century Italian, supplies the scenario for their production. Ms. Young emailed with me to discuss her work in commedia and Shakespeare.

Let’s start with Goldoni and The Servant of Two Masters. Can you tell me a little about what you love in the play?

I love this family of artists. This is one of the most alive, fun-loving, silly, caring group of artists I have come across. Especially this week I have felt so lucky to be a part of this group of comedy experts with unflappable spirits.

I can’t imagine going through what we went through culturally last week without the true gift of coming to work and being given permission to laugh and trying to offer permission to the audience to do the same. I will never forget trying to listen to the audience’s needs the day after the election. It felt like real purpose to be in a comedy. The fact that it’s a comedy that dates back to 1748, with origins as far back as Rome and that it can speak to an audience today is astonishing.

That’s one of the reasons I love to do Shakespeare as well. I live for the moment an audience laughs at something so immediately in a play written hundreds of years ago. In that moment we’re not only connected to each other in the room but across time as well. And it is a salve.

In what way?

I will echo what our director told us the day after the election. When many hearts were feeling broken and spirits were dashed, he told us that our jobs had changed overnight, Our role as artists has changed today” he said, We are no longer provocateurs, but healers; and that is a beautiful responsibility.”

Goldoni’s dramaturgy grew out of the improvisation and stock characters of commedia dell’arte. How do you bring to life a stock character like Smeraldina?

Young with Steven Epp
in The Servant of Two Masters
It’s a 'healthy' challenge! By which I mean it’s an enormous challenge. I feel a type of exposure in this process that I haven’t felt in a while. We jumped right into rehearsing on our feet which meant that I had to dive in to the deep end of discovering Smeraldina physically.

It’s super-challenging to try to keep up with the tradition of the form of the stock characters — the behavior, rhythm, physicality and sound, and figure out how to bring yourself to it authentically. I’m not so concerned with putting a signature stamp on it or anything — only that, if you just do the form there’s no truth in it and if all you do is your own truth it’s not the character, or the tradition. It’s a practice that can't be rushed.

One of the biggest gifts of the process has been to reconnect with the pursuit of the actor’s pleasure onstage and for an audience. That simple objective can be lost in the shuffle and it’s of utmost importance now. Chris reminded me to play at the speed of fun which I couldn’t believe I had forgotten.

Could you tell me about Christopher Bayes' approach to clowning? How has your training with him prepared you for a role like Smeraldina?

I studied with Chris at Brown/Trinity Rep (known as the Brown/Trinity Consortium then). He was one of the main reasons I went back to my alma mater for my MFA. He had just become the head of the movement program at B/T. I had heard so much about him. When I studied with him second year it really changed everything. My general approach to acting changed: what it means to stand in front of an audience, what it means to be in the room, now. He introduced me to the “speed of fun,” “being faster than your worry,” “louder than your critic.” These are incredibly profound proposals for an actor. He had us living on the edge of our own presence — and I found when I brought that to written material, it changed the whole ballgame. Sometimes I go into the next room and meow and moo in cat/cow positions (a warmup he gave us) to get out of my head and back in the mood (no pun intended).

Young with director Christopher Bayes
in rehearsals for The Servant of Two Masters
[Chris] keeps reminding us of the wonderful responsibility to bring joy, pleasure, and fun to an audience and that can only happen if we goof around and delight in each other. And then my friend and colleague Andy Grotelueschen, (who plays Dottore) says, “We can only get off if they get off.” It’s thrilling and delightful to try to get them off… er, you know what I mean. So there really is a symbiotic relationship with everyone in the room.

What tricks of the trade have you picked up from Steven Epp?

Steven is a marvel. I can breathe when I’m acting with him. He has such ease and yet his mind works with such alacrity at the same time. There’s something peaceful and yet highly provocative at the same time. He always seems to be working on the play — thinking about new jokes that might tickle an audience, new references to current events which might provoke thought or add some amount of catharsis to an audience. He is rigorous in his fun. And then he lets go and surprises himself as well, I think. I don’t know how he does it. But I’m certainly taking notes.

What links have you found between Goldoni and Shakespeare?

Everything is everything. It’s all one, man. They are both so rich. So fun. So much scope. So physical.

How do their views of comedy differ?

The main difference is how language functions. The language in Goldoni’s play is flexible and serves the heightened physicality of the piece. When a lazzo comes (an improvised bit), it’s really flexible and alive — there’s danger in the freedom of it. It changes every night. Even when the text is fixed, it’s still serving whatever is happening in the room at that very moment, and the spirit or potential for improv is always there.

In Shakespeare the language is the physicality of the piece. The language is what is happening: it’s rough, poetic, it’s everything. When something gets in the way of that the play sort of stops happening.

Young as Smeraldina
in TFANA's The Servant of Two Masters
But what’s amazing about these immortal writers of theater is in content, they all seem to get what a “mixed up, muddled up, shook up, world” we’re living in (why The Kinks here, now? not sure). Both Shakespeare and Goldoni are diving deep into the mess it is to be human, the stupidity and the idiocy, the beauty, the boldness.

How do you grapple with the ingrained sexism of those pre-modern plays?

One of the reasons this version of Servant is so exciting and provocative is that it's up-to-date. So we have references to the current political climate, the election, pop culture, and public figures. It’s already a delightful surprise and a catharsis to acknowledge the political moment in a classical play, but this week it has also brought a lot of relief to me.

Smeraldina has a monologue in the piece written in the sixteenth century about the injustice of the double standard between the way women are treated and the way men are treated in society regarding infidelity. She goes on to say that it is because, “The law was made made by men, and that whenever a woman does anything the man has the law to punish her,” and that’s unfair. We added some contemporary references in it including Pussy Riot lyrics and a recent battle cry of feminists at the end.

What other ways has the political climate influenced the show?

The night before the election the ladies in the cast cooked up a surprise during that monologue: I hid an “I’m with her,” sign under my apron and Adina and Liz came out with signs for Hilary and Jill Stein. It was such a unique thrill to get to voice real views in the middle of the play with fun and passion and surprise.

It was an experience I’ll never forget, as was the experience I had the day after Hilary lost. That was a hard and disappointing day for Hilary supporters, and here I had the opportunity to speak feminist language in a group of New Yorkers. It was a tangible responsibility and an opportunity. We didn’t have to change a thing about the monologue written in the 16th century for it to be 100% relevant in that room. It taught me about acting: the material is always relevant because history repeats itself and human beings need to talk about it together out of doors.

The fact that a play from the 18th century is affording that opportunity today is affirming, encouraging and mind-blowing.

You’ve got plenty of experience with Shakespearean theater, most notably with the Fiasco Theater. What’s your perspective on female roles before, say, Ibsen?

Young as Sylvia in Fiasco's
Two Gentlemen of Verona(2015)
To offer the other side, often with classical plays, and definitely in Shakespeare, you can feel the playwright’s heartfelt understanding of their female characters’ perspectives and then not being able to follow-through dramaturgically, because of their times. In Fiasco, when we run up against this challenge, we try to do our best to trust that the writer knew what he or she (usually he) was doing, but was constrained. We try to trust Shakespeare through thick and thin, and come up with an interpretation or experience of playing the roles that makes sense to us today.

It gets hard to fully commit to that idea in something like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which we did at TFANA last year, when two men are fighting over one woman. At the dramatic climax of the play, the two men forgive each other but don’t consult the woman about her experience. We wrestled over how to deal with this and I think we did a good job with it. I hope we did justice by wrestling with the problem without changing the language. We did our best to put that process of grappling on stage through our delivery as actors. But audiences of today had really strong reactions to the end of that play and I get it.

What are you working on next, on your own and with Fiasco?

This Spring Fiasco is slated to do The Imaginary Invalid, by Moliere, at The Old Globe in San Diego. I will playing Toinette, the maid. I’m even more intrigued to work on it because of Servant and playing Smeraldina.

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to play? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

I’d love to play Beatrice from Much Ado one day.

I’ve begun to dream about playing Hal from Henry IV, 1 and 2.

Young (center) as Belaria
in Fiasco's Cymbeline (2012)
And when I was playing Belarius from Cymbeline as a female character, Belaria, I used to daydream about speaking the Duke’s text from As You Like It. There’s something that I can’t get enough of, when a character leaves the court and moves to the woods. The language about nature and what it does to a person gets me. Whenever I feel like running away or escaping I think of these images. Of course the Duke isn’t on vacation. He’s exiled. Which I would prefer not to be. There’s work to be done. But here it is for your brief escape:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference; as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
'This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
I would not change it.


TFANA's The Servant of Two Masters runs from November 6 to December 4 at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene. Tickets are $65-$95.


photos  Gerry Goodstein
Two Gents photo  Theresa Wood

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Women on Shakespeare: Lisa Harrow on Volumnia

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy and even male-only, coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is the second season of my interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work in New York City.

This fall, the Red Bull mounts a modern-dress Coriolanus with Lisa Harrow as the redoubtable Volumnia, mother to the titular general. A native New Zealander, Harrow has worked extensively around the world for almost five decades. Her Olivia fell in love with Judi Dench's Viola in a legendary Twelfth Night at the RSC in 1969. Six years later, she played Juliet to John Hurt's Romeo when both were in their thirties. Though it doesn't come up in our email conversation, Harrow is also an environmental activist who wrote What Can I Do? An Alphabet for Living.

Let’s start with Volumnia. What have you discovered about her that you find fascinating?

My thoughts about Volumnia evolved as the production took shape. I am the mother of a solo child, a son, who started life without a father in the home. So I was particularly interested in the dynamic of Volumnia and Coriolanus, given the fact that there is no mention of his father anywhere in the text. I strove to find a gentler, nurturing side of her, which was the kind of mother I hope I was with my boy. But in the end, I realized I had to bow to Shakespeare’s writing and embody his vision of Volumnia as a powerfully ambitious woman who molded her boy to her vision of what a man should be: a great soldier and a powerful political leader.

The placing of the play in a contemporary American context added an extra complexity to the question of who Volumnia is, especially considering that Coriolanus is played by the wonderful Trinidadian Canadian actor, Dion Johnstone. So it’s clear that Coriolanus’s father was not a white patrician. I decided that Volumnia, an independent woman not interested in marriage but wanting a son to mould into a leader, chose to find a specific sperm donor to give her that son. Of course, this has no expression in the play, but I needed to find a back-story that made sense to me.

Which of her scenes are the most challenging?

I find her first scene (1.3) the most challenging because the stark bareness of the stage provides no domestic setting which is implicit in the writing. But once that scene is over, the rest of her story is clear and wonderful to play. Shakespeare leaves no knots to untangle. The play ends in the inevitable death of Coriolanus and Volumnia is left with the tragic knowledge that her fierce framing of her son’s character results in life without that beloved son.

Harrow with Dion Johnstone as Coriolanus
Volumnia is one of Shakespeare’s most powerful women, socially as well as psychologically. How does the play present that power, as compared with Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, and Lear’s daughters?

This is a complicated question that I’m not sure I can answer easily. Volumnia is indeed powerful, but only to her son. She holds no political power, which is probably why she’s driven her son to a military career. Or did she? Perhaps he was a born soldier and her desire to gain social standing drives her to capitalize on his military success and push him into seeking political power so she could bask in reflected glory. There’s no answer in the text to either of those questions, just her words and actions, which all point to her ambition that is at odds with his, and his inability to strongly oppose her. He could have left home years ago and made his own way, but he hasn’t.

Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, and Lear’s daughters are all members of a ruling class in no uncertain terms. Cleopatra’s power over Antony is sexual; Lady Macbeth’s power is that of a woman wanting her husband to be king and who will sacrifice her female nature (i.e. compassion and nurture) to help him achieve that and is driven mad by the consequences of that wish, so her power wanes quickly; and Lear’s daughters are the product of an abusive father and their power is driven by the anger engendered by that abuse.

She’s the only mother on that list — how does that figure in?
I have no answer to that except to say that clearly Shakespeare is interested in the psychology of this particular son/mother relationship. How far can an ambitious, smart mother, who has no opportunity in her world to realize her own ambitions, so influence and frame her son that he provides her with the satisfaction of her own success through his triumphs?

Talking about Shakespeare more generally, in your career you’ve played a variety of parts. What’s your perspective on his roles for women?

When I was at high school in New Zealand, I played all the boy’s parts. It’s one of the joys of going to an all-girls’ school, the ones with the loudest voices get all the juicy swashbuckling parts to play, and my two special ones were King Lear and Henry V. I still yearn to have another go at Henry, but the attempt at Lear gave me the nearest thing to a nervous breakdown I’ve ever had.

Harrow's Ophelia with Judi Dench as Viola
RSC 1969, director John Barton
What did you learn by playing those parts?

What I discovered by playing male roles was what I called “male mental space” — that is, that the world of male ideas and the physical world of male characters were so much more thrilling and huge and extraordinary than that of female characters. It was a world that was much more exciting to inhabit if you were a tomboy. But, when I joined the RSC in 1969 to play Olivia in Twelfth Night, I found myself working with John Barton, who is considered to be among the greatest directors to work with on a Shakespearean script and he altered my thinking. Like a true father, he guided me into the world of Shakespearean heroines and taught me to how look at their words and really understand them. Over many years of living with the words of this greatest of humanists, I’ve come to the conclusion (like many, I’m sure) that his women are, on the whole, the teachers of men — they light the way through wit, sexuality, fortitude, common sense and gentleness to a better and more harmonious way of being together.

The current debate that is raging in the world about the status of women in relation to the continuing patriarchal control through religion, violence, political domination, sexual predation and blind inability to accept that all people should be given equal opportunities, is there in Shakespeare’s writing, loud and clear. As a species, we haven’t changed much in 400 years. That is why his plays are still alive and loved in every country in the world. And that is why this particular production of Coriolanus has been so successful in its transfer to present-day America. There are living examples of each of these characters who were alive in 491 BCE, written about by Shakespeare in 1610, and are now voicing their partisan political arguments on America’s streets and in every media outlet possible.

That being said, the last two productions of a Shakespeare play I have had the pleasure to act in were both The Tempest in which I played Prospero each time, as a man, or more specifically, as a male–entity. I loved the opportunity to explore the vast scope of that character from his monumental rage to a sublime realization of the equal power of forgiveness and compassion.

Harrow with Dion Johnston as Coriolanus

On an intersecting subject, Shakespeare wrote many ingénues, several adult roles, and some aging women. How does his perspective on a woman’s age affect his portrait of her?

I think his perspective on the aging of women is no different than that of his aging men. It depends on the character as much as anything. Justice Shallow is not Queen Margaret in Richard III, yet they both speak from their particular life experience. And a character’s social position also determines what they say. I’m sure, if Juliet’s nurse were not the nurse and subservient to Juliet’s parents, she might have been more supportive of Juliet’s position in that appalling scene where Juliet is viciously berated by her father for refusing to marry Paris.

What else do you think affected the way he wrote women?

I don’t think he writes his women differently from his men. It’s just that there are a lot more male characters because if one is dealing with stories of power, kingdoms, battles, and history, society has given men a more prominent role in those stories. Or, the argument could be made that because only men were allowed to act in those days, it was easier to write mostly male roles.

Over the course of your career, how have you seen Shakespearean staging and acting change?

In 1969 I started out my theatrical career playing in the RSC’s main house in Stratford-upon-Avon which held 1,200 people, and now in 2016, I am playing Volumnia in the 199-seat Barrow Street Theatre in New York’s West Village. So there’s an immediate difference to the demands on an actor’s ability to communicate with every member of the audience, without the help of a mike.

What opportunities have young women gained in classical theater, and what’s been lost?

In 1969, it was very rare for women to play male roles as a matter of course, but in our present production all but one of the women (me) in Coriolanus portray men at some point in the play, most notably Merritt Jansen, who’s visibly pregnant, as the tribune Brutus Sicinius, yet she is still addressed as “Sir” and no one blinks. That’s quite a change. Yet, is it? Sarah Bernhardt was famous for her performance of Hamlet and even made a film of it in 1900, so women have been playing male roles in Shakespeare for a long time. Certainly, the number of young women pouring out of training programs as burningly ambitious actresses with no intention of being held back by convention, has led to a growing trend for Shakespearean productions with all-female casts, which is terrific.

Do you have any other Shakespearean roles you’d love to play, or to go back to?

Harrow as Prospero
Pop-Up Globe in Auckland NZ, 2016
I would loved to have played Cleopatra but was never asked. And at my age, there aren’t many opportunities to play the great heroines. I have often thought it would be interesting to do Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra with the same actors playing both roles, as an exploration of Shakespeare’s views on youthful and middle-aged passion. But once again, who would contemplate such a project with someone my age? But I do enjoy working on their texts with young actors.

How about roles traditionally played by men?
I wouldn’t mind having another crack at Prospero. He was a kick in the head to play. The internal impact of the emotional depths needed to perform his words in Act 5.1 from the point where he gives up his search for vengeance and opens his heart to the healing power of forgiveness is unlike any other force I have ever encountered in a career playing a huge variety of amazing roles.


Red Bull Theater's Coriolanus runs from October 18 to November 20 in the West Village. Tickets start at $80.


photos  Carol Rosegg