PROVIDENCE, RI— Trinity Repertory Company continues their 2022-2023 season with the world premiere of Whitney White’s “By The Queen,” a witty and tongue-in -cheek satire of William Shakespeare’s plays about Henry the VI and Richard III.
Margaret of Anjou was Queen of England and later Queen of France by marriage to King Henry VI from 1445 to 1461, and again from 1470 to 1471. She played a pivotal role in a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses, ruling her husband’s kingdom during his bouts of insanity.
“By The Queen” doesn’t begin as a historical drama. The first indication that this will be an offbeat production is the way the stage is arranged. Set designer Michael McGarty has created a posh restaurant where the action takes place. Audience members are seated at tables and are often engaged by the performers.
Another innovation is having three versions of Margaret onstage at the same time, engaging each other.
Fiona Marie Maguire, Rachel Christopher, and Paula Plum all portray different facets of the Queen. She is a mother, a lover, a fighter, and survivor.
White, a graduate of the Brown/Trinity Rep. MFA Program in Acting, takes us into Margaret’s inner thoughts. It’s a psychological examination of a complex woman. The play also is a tribute to female empowerment and strength. Margaret is determined to shape her own destiny instead of being a puppet of men.
One moment of triumph is when she orders the duplicitous Gloucester (Mauro Hantman, last seen in “The Inheritance”) to fill her wine glass. It’s such a simple gesture but it speaks volumes about her power.
White also offers a withering critique of the depiction of women in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as the lack of true romance.
Director Brian McEleney’s staging is playful. Margaret and Henry (Matthew Russell) exchange vows while standing on a table. The performers are clearly having a lot of fun and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Maguire is appealing as a spunky and free-spirited Margaret. Plum is a blast as a wise and world-weary Margaret who is enjoying life. Christopher (“Crime and Punishment”) gets to do the heavy drama in the show’s second act, dealing with massive personal tragedy (no spoilers here). Her rage and grief are powerfully real and reveal the depth of Margaret’s struggles.
Jeff Church (“Fairview”) provides solid comic acting as the infamous Richard III. Church’s physical gestures are very entertaining to watch.
Taavon Gamble (“The Inheritance”) as Suffolk and JaQuan Malik Jones, making his stage debut as Warwick/Prince Edward, are engaging and complement the work of the actresses perfectly.
“By The Queen” is clever, sexy, audacious, and filled with lots of surprises. It successfully swings from self-referential commentary about theater, to philosophical examinations of the male/female power dynamic, to grim drama about murder and betrayal. The actors and the technicians deliver first-rate work and have created a terrific way for one to spend time on a cold winter night.
By The Queen runs through Feb. 12. Trinity Repertory Company. 201 Washington St., Providence, RI. For tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com. Face coverings are required.
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