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Review: E. Bonnie Lewis Shines in ‘Queen Undaunted: Margaret of Anjou’

DramaDogs' one-woman production an engaging portrait of a character of substance

Who has added more colorful turns of phrase to the English language than William Shakespeare? “A sorry sight,” “Fight fire with fire,” “Night owl,” “Up in arms” and “Vanish into thin air” are all said to be coined by the Bard himself.

E. Bonnie Lewis stars in DramaDogs' one-woman production of Queen Undaunted: Margaret of Anjou.
E. Bonnie Lewis stars in DramaDogs’ one-woman production of Queen Undaunted: Margaret of Anjou.

That being said, some of his plays — especially the historic dramas — have been seen by many as ponderous. But DramaDogs’ one-woman production of Queen Undaunted: Margaret of Anjou, performed last weekend at Center Stage Theater, added a few choice turns of phrase and edited many more, distilling Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3 and Richard III into a clear and engaging portrait of one character who appears in all of them — Queen Margaret of Anjou.

Playwright and Dramaturg Jinny Webber has studied, taught, directed and acted in countless Shakespeare plays, and she was delighted with the opportunity to “collaborate” with him on the script for Queen Undaunted. It is made up of about two-thirds his words, but in order to compress and shape the material into one coherent view of Margaret’s life, she supplied her own transitions and modifications, blending seamlessly.

E. Bonnie Lewis shone in speaking the words as Queen Margaret in all the facets of her complex character — from wide-eyed teenager being married off to Henry VI of England, to high-powered ruler of England, to mother suffering personal tragedy, to penniless exile. The elegant language, often imbued with her slightly more modern tone and expression, felt accessible and yet still authentic.

More than the words, what brought Margaret to life was Lewis’ movement. A dancer as well as actor, she is able to portray raw emotion, as well as depicting the mundane moments in life that not even a queen is immune to, with her physicality. A small gesture of her hand or turn of her mouth could bring deep humanity and vulnerability to this ambitious and volatile character.

Because of her husband’s frequent bouts of insanity and general weak will, it fell to her to step in and rule in his place during the Wars of the Roses, and she was described by an associate at court as “a tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.” The theme of a woman defying the gender roles of her time to exert her power in the world is still relevant today.

The most poignant section was the entirely wordless dance in which Margaret decides she must bear Henry an heir to secure her place in the monarchy. Ted Dolas’ excellent lighting design is moody here, and the music has a somewhat dark tone as well, underlining the determination with which Margaret set about this task.

In beautifully graceful pantomime, she illustrates pregnancy, birth and rearing of her son, with lessons in fencing and literature included. Evocative and powerful, this effective transition not only illustrates the passage of 15 years, but the depth of her bond with the young prince. His eventual death is then all the more tragic, as we have peered into their relationship, with all its tenderness.

Costuming is creatively used, with Lewis changing among four garments throughout the play, each representing an era of her life. Hanging on stands behind filmy white curtains, the garments also create shadowy figures upstage, perhaps representing others in her life. In addition, these garments are used as props, with one representing a coverlet, a handkerchief for wiping away tears, a burial shroud and a severed head. At the end when she puts on the garment, remembering her life, it is as if she is wearing her memories.

Directors Ken Gilbert and Michelle Osborne, who also provided costume and sound design, have provided an excellent framework for this exhilarating collaborative effort, and filled in the many shades of color necessary to present this deeply textured performance.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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