If ever you wanted to hear the unapologetic roar of womanhood, playwright Whitney White is the maestro cueing up the estrogen.
White, a graduate of the Brown University/Trinity MFA program, returns to Trinity Repertory Company with the world premiere of her piece “By the Queen,” an energetic look at Shakespeare’s male-centric plays based on the lives of Kings Henry VI and Richard III from the vantage point of the fierce Queen Margaret. The tragedy and tenacity marking Margaret’s life, in the shadows of the men around her, bursts to life in a most unique and inspiring way at White’s hands.
Played in the round like a dinner theatre, “By the Queen” is rambunctious and riotous as Shakespeare’s tales, complete with authentic dialogue, unfurl before a trio of Margarets, young, middle-aged, and older. The women dissect the action in his plays, throw shade on the characters and add dimension to the stories.
The audience is taken through the years, from when Margaret was young, idealistic, and perhaps in love through her attempt to secure power. The eldest Margaret, played warmly by Paula Plum, is the guide, having the full breadth of experience and feeling the twinge of regret and lost opportunity.
The story is empowering – one Margaret asks, “What does it take to survive?” Another answers, “Every goddamn thing you have.”
The story is exciting. There are war scenes that play out across the stage and into the aisles, murder on one set of stairs amid the audience, and a gruesome beheading.
The story is telling. The women commiserate, noting, “It’s a gift to look back, (but) it’s torture.”
White takes jabs at the patriarchy of theatre but she avoids preaching with pithy delivery and moments of sheer frivolity like a rendition of Donna Summer’s anthem “I Will Survive.”
If “By the Queen” seems grandiose, it is. But it’s a wildly important piece of theatre that elevates the disenfranchised to highlight societal problems and envision a solution.
Directed by Brian McEleney, the cast showcases new talent. Plum is a veteran but new to Trinity and she guides action like a boss, with a graceful ferocity that inspires her younger selves, played by Fiona Marie Maguire, who pours great passion into the strident youthful Margaret, and Rachel Christopher offers a sassy, strutting mid-life version who suffers no fools.
While the women are the focus of “By the Queen,” the men offer tremendous context and the actors add depth and personality to the two-hour production. Of note, Jeff Church is the ideal Shakespearian purist who rights the direction when the women’s musings veer too far. Newcomer JaQuan Malik Jones, a current Brown/Trinity MFA student, proves a powerful presence after blooming late.
“By the Queen” is unique, provocative, and an essential dissection and re-quilting of the theatre’s cannon. It’s on stage at Trinity through February 12. For tickets, go to trinityrep.com.