And in her next role, Richard III
Men play the roles of women often enough in Shakespeare's plays, a nod to the Elizabethan tradition. It's rare to see the tables turned, but here it is: Seana McKenna, Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival announced today, will be Richard III next summer.
Now there's something this great actress can sink her teeth into. A veteran of 19 years on that festival's stage, she is currently playing Paulina in "The Winter's Tale" with her usual crystal clarity for Shakespeare's rhythm and intent. As Phèdre and Medea and Andromache in the past, McKenna has been commanding. But given the festival's recent tendency to program fewer of the great tragedies, not to mention American classics by Albee and Williams that provide such rich material for female actors past the ingenue stage, I was wondering what would become of her.
The best female in a male Shakespearean role I ever saw was a slip of tweenage girl at the Interlochen Festival of the Arts more than a decade ago. She was the sour steward Malvolio in "Twelfth Night."
Her delivery of the letter scene, in which Malvolio convinces himself he's loved by the mistress of his household, had me helpless with laughter. I can't even tell you her name, but I'll bet she finds inspiration in today's news.
McKenna has long held Richard III to be a dream role, according to the director, Miles Potter, who is her husband. There have been a few other female Richards: Pamela Rabe played him in a 2009 Sydney Theatre Company production of "The War Of The Roses," an adaptation of eight Shakespeare's plays; the Globe Theatre's all-female version ran in 2003. But this production will be otherwise conventional, performed in rep with "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "Titus Andronicus" and "Twelfth Night."