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June 28, 2010

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." 
June 28, 2010 12:51 PM | | Comments (2)


I've been a friend of Seana for a long time, and she's been a columnist for our magazine Escarpment Views, but this is the first I've heard of her desire to play Richard III! What a surprise, but how exciting. The fact that Miles Potter will direct her makes it doubly important. Their work together has been brilliant for years. Quite simply, their interpretation of texts has always astonished me yet taught me so much about the playwrights' intentions. This production will be another one to remember for a lifetime.

Seana has it all and will capture a special essence of Richard. She has so many roles in her repertoire on which to draw, as well as her highly intelligent approach to everything she does. I look forward to seeing this production that will be an extraordinary blend of talent from a gifted director, an actor in the eponymous role, and all supporting actors and theatre people!

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