Hi all –
As I mentioned, I was out of town this past Sunday, so had to call on Marketing Director Tina McCulloch to fill in for me at the talk-back. Here’s what she had to say:
Hello, guest blogger back again, with a report on last Sunday’s post-matinee talk-back. It’s a feature that Alumnae Theatre has introduced just this season, and audiences really seem to enjoy it. After the second matinee performance of every main stage show, the audience can stay for a Q&A with the show’s director, cast and – as happened this time – some of the designers.
In addition to director Mat Howard, and the lovely (and still-costumed) cast, the audience was introduced to set designer Mitz Delisle, milliner Jen Rovinelli, composer/sound designer Rick Jones, and props designer Rebekka Hammer.
WARNING: If you haven’t yet seen the show, there are plot spoilers contained in the following. On the other hand, it might even be useful to have some background…
Almost the whole audience stayed for the talk-back, but no one wanted to be the first to ask a question, so stage manager Lynda Yearwood (as facilitator) started it off by asking Mat what possessed him to want to direct this challenging play! He responded that he loved the language, and was intrigued because it’s rare that such masterful, poetic language is so central in a contemporary play [despite its 15th century setting, Normand Chaurette wrote The Queens in 1990]. And as for Chaurette’s logic-defying time-shifting, Mat enjoyed the challenge of making it make sense! Well, maybe not: actor Nonnie Griffin (acid-tongued Queen Margaret) commented that she still couldn’t figure out the timing – Margaret travels to Russia and is back in London in the course of an afternoon – how???!
An audience member wanted to know: Did Cecily (played by Janice Tate) really have her son Richard cut off her own daughter’s (Anne Dexter, played by Patricia Hammond) hands? “Yes – nice mother!” joked Janice. But she added some historical context: it was a cruel time, and an offense such as incest, which Anne was accused of – with her other brother, George [who later married Isabel Warwick, played by Jessica Moss] – was punishable by death. So Cecily dealt with her daughter harshly, but saved her life. Cruel to be kind, hmmm. Janice noted that Anne Dexter, mute and hand-less, could be seen as representative of all the women in the play: no voice, no power.
Elaine Lindo (absent-minded Queen Elizabeth) pointed out that the three portraits hanging upstage (painted by Rebekka Hammer) are of the unseen-but-talked-about kings: Henry VI (Margaret’s husband, who died 12 years before), Edward IV (Elizabeth’s husband and Cecily’s son; dying during the play), and Richard III (who becomes king when his brother Edward dies, and marries the ambitious Anne Warwick – played by Meghan McNicol). Elizabeth’s two babies – she’s always forgetting who’s taking care of them – are the doomed “princes in the tower” made famous in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Chaurette takes some liberties with historical accuracy – the princes were actually teenagers, not “born only one day ago.” And the queens’ elaborate dress-up “elevation day” ceremony is a dramatic invention.
Chorus member Kat Letwin got a huge laugh with her response to a comment about the shockingly bad mothers in the play, and how today no mother would act like that, because we consider motherhood sacred. Kat, almost under her breath, muttered, “Depends on the kid!”
Speaking of mothers, here’s an example of how deeply an actor can get into character. In response to a question about whether Cecily was his mistress before she married the Duke of York (it’s hinted at in the script; and yes, she was), Janice Tate blithely mentioned her “three children,” causing Patricia Hammond, as Cecily’s often-ignored daughter Anne, to cry out in mock-hurt, “Four!”
About the chillingly beautiful original music, sung in Latin by the trio who also play ladies in waiting (Danielle Capretti, Kat Lai and Kat Letwin), Mat told the audience that composer Rick Jones had approached him with the idea of having a chorus – which is not in the script – and Mat loved it: “It changed the play wonderfully.”
Why, another audience member wondered, was there a repeat of the end of Act I at the start of Act II? Mat responded that the script did not contain an obvious place to put a break, and he’d actually experimented a bit before finding this one. The idea behind the repetition was to underscore Anne Dexter’s shocked and disbelieving reaction to hearing her mother – the same woman who cut off Anne’s hands! – instruct Margaret to feed Elizabeth’s babies with “tender love.” Whoa. Plus, Cecily’s lines provide a quick recap of what’s gone on up to that point: think of it as “Previously, on The Queens…”!
Did those opulent costumes help or hinder the actors’ performances, someone else wanted to know. Reactions from the cast varied: a couple said “Helped” immediately, but Patricia Hammond, who wears comically long sleeves as the hand-less Anne Dexter, shouted, “Hindered!” Despite that, she does a very impressive and graceful curtsy without the aid of hands (which are surprisingly necessary for balance), not to mention a fall to the floor. Hey, did you notice the actors’ amazing pointy-toed leather shoes, so true to the period? They were painstakingly researched and hand-crafted by costume designer Heather Schibli, who unfortunately could not attend the talk-back. Jen Rovinelli made all the impressive headgear, and also does the actors’ makeup before each performance.
The talk-back ended with an audience member commenting on the beautiful sparseness of Mitz Delisle’s set: its lack of visual clutter made it easier to concentrate on the challenging text, and the lushly costumed actors were really the focus of attention.
The Queens has four performances left: Wed – Sat this week at 8 p.m.
Photo by Joshua Meles (www.meles.ca). Left to right: Meghan McNicol (Anne Warwick) and Elaine Lindo (Queen Elizabeth).