Shakespeare’s Actresses in America

by Kay Bourne

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 30, 2008

Rebekah Maggor
Rebekah Maggor  

Rebekah Maggor's virtuoso parade of actresses who've given notable performances of Shakespeare on an America stage will have your inner camera clicking away. En route you meet the great (and here and there the not so great) actresses who've played these roles from the 19th into the 21st century. From England's sweet Ellen Terry who drinks a potion that may or may not actually be a poison to France's Sarah Bernhardt clad in leather boots -and playing the Danish avenger - to Kathleen Turner, late of the ball breaking Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe" as the most royally teed off queen of the fairies, Titania, to Claire Danes as a slouching teenage Juliet itchy for Romeo to put in an appearance, the roll call is extensive and fascinating. This procession of divas is right out of Mardi Gras, a wild, wonderful, joyful burst of adoration for the Bard and the women who've done right by him - or not, as in the case of Elizabeth Taylor of the luscious violet eyes and irritating squeaky monotone who is the last woman on earth you would think of to play Katherina, the tamed shrew.

All in all, her one-woman show provides many delicious moments to savor. It's a memorable evening that's at once a tribute to an elite corps of female thespians and also to the theater itself for engaging our intellect, our hearts, occasionally our funny bones, and, importantly, our better selves.

Maggor narrates the evening in the person of the formidable, feisty lesbian Margaret Webster, the theatrical director who is credited with bringing Shakespeare to Broadway. Actress, producer and director, Webster directed Maurice Evans in the title role of "Richard III" which had an impressively long run, and they went on in this partnership to do several other Shakespearean dramas. It was while she was directing "Hamlet" that she began her long romantic relationships with Eva Le Gallienne, whose Lady McBeth in this production is terrifying, yet pitiful as well, an extraordinary portrait. At one moment Maggor as Margaret Webster gives a quick side glance supposedly at La Gallienne which is fraught with meaning if you're in on the situation between the two of them. (It is, though, not mentioned in the text.) One of Webster's most important productions was "Othello" with Paul Robeson, which she brought to Broadway despite the mores of the times which had meant that never before has a black actor played the title role.

While bouquets of roses rightfully go to Maggor for her astonishing gallery of performances in Shakespeare's Actresses in America, a glass of champagne should be also be raised to director Karin Coonrod whose staging and judicious tailoring of the dramatic moments gave Maggor seconds here and there to move from one interpretation to another seamlessly.

You deserve to treat yourself to the extraordinary achievement that is "Shakespeare's Actresses in America," which is only on stage for a run of eight performances in the Calderwell Pavilion at BCA, 527 Tremont St., the South End. For more info about the Huntington Theatre production you can go on-line at or phone 617-266-0800. The final performance is Monday, Feb. 11 in the evening.