May 11 – June 17 , 2001
By Normand Chaurette
Translated by: Linda Gaboriau
Directed by: Frédérique Michel
Production Design by: Charles A. Duncombe, Jr.
Cast: Victoria Coulson, Damien DePaolis, Andrea Isco, Katherina Lejona, Cynthia Mance, Kathryn Sheer, Veronica Valentine.
From the Program Notes
About the Play:
Normand Chaurette’s The Queens, inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard III, is a fantasy drama that depicts a classic struggle for power and status. Set during the time of the War of the Roses, the play unfolds over a few crucial hours on one afternoon. The king, Edward, lies dying off-stage and the women of the court are jockeying for position. Edward’s wife, Elizabeth, traverses the castle incessantly, searching desperately for her two young sons, the rightful heirs to the throne. Isabel, wife of Edward’s brother, George, and member of the noble house of Warwick, is confident that her own reign as queen is imminent. Anne Warwick, sister and rival to Isabel, weighs a potentially advantageous, but also somewhat Faustian, proposal from Richard, Duke of Gloucester, known as Richard Crookback because of both his physical deformity and his dark reputation. The aged Duchess of York, mother-in-law to both Elizabeth and the sisters of Warwick, yearns for the weight of the crown she was never able to gain by marriage or ascension, despite years spent in proximity to the throne. And the seemingly mute Anne Dexter, a daughter long since disavowed by the Duchess, longs for the most basic of validations: the acknowledgment that she exists. Meanwhile, Margaret, the deposed French-born queen, bitterly wishes the worst on all contenders, current and former, and pines for a glorious exile far from the land of her disgrace.
Just as Shakespeare interpreted history and bent it to his own dramatic needs in writing Richard III, so too does Normand Chaurette reconfigure his source material and reinterpret the actual history. Shakespeare lived just a century after the events he depicted and had a Queen of his own to worry about: Queen Elizabeth I, descended from Henry Tudor, the man who deposed Richard III in 1485. Chaurette, some 500 years removed, is less concerned with dynastic politics than with how the stories of these women, at most supporting players in Shakespeare’s drama, might have played out on the traditionally male stage of royal succession. In order to heighten conflicts and throw relationships into sharper relief, he compresses history and resurrects ghosts. In reality, Margaret, Isabel, and Anne Dexter all died before 1483, while the Duchess of York outlived every woman on stage. And George was killed in 1478 for being a threat to Edward, not Richard, though he was indeed drowned in a cask of wine.
These queens are neither leading armies nor rallying troops around their causes, though Margaret was once one of her own best generals. Instead, they harness the only tools available to them: words. Lies, innuendo, and rumor are their weapons, not swords or daggers. Isabel and Anne, despite being sisters, lie to each other throughout the play, and both of them torment Queen Elizabeth with claims regarding the whereabouts of her children, claims calculated to have the most chilling effect. The Duchess and her daughter are caught up in a web of lies regarding identity and the power of speech. Margaret lies to everyone, including herself. Unlike Richard’s victims, who die by drowning, or worse, the casualties of these conflict remain to bear witness to their own pitiful declines. It is not difficult to imagine the deposed Queen Elizabeth, after the loss of her position and her children, becoming even more deranged than “olde Queen Margaret” (to use Shakespeare’s description) already is.
The limitations imposed on these women by history and by custom are not the subject of the play, but they do form a powerful backdrop. Society demanded that even the strongest woman be connected with a man of position, and thus is Margaret, by this time bereft of royal husband and son, rendered bitter and impotent, a mere observer of the current conflicts. But Chaurette is more concerned with what drives these women as individuals than as archetypes. Their grievances are personal, their aims selfish. For these noblewomen, raised on the expectation of becoming royalty, anything short of the crown is failure, and the loss of the crown is the ultimate ignominy. But must pride always trump morality? How much will they sacrifice to achieve their aims? And, once installed, how far will they go to maintain their always precarious positions?
About the Playwright:
Working as a playwright, translator, novelist, and academician, Normand Chaurette has established himself as one of Quebec’s leading literary figures. He has translated works by Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Schiller for performance in French. He has also written numerous plays that have been produced all over the world. The Queens, Chaurette’s most successful work to date, was an award winning play in Canada in both French and English. It has also been translated into Italian, Spanish, Catalan, and Dutch. In 1997, The Queens was performed at the prestigious Comédie Français in Paris, where it was a popular and a critical success, winning the Prix CIC as best production of the year.