She-Wolf: Creating a Queen

This in-depth look at Margaret d’Anjou cannibalizes four of Shakespeare’s plays to finally focus on the formidable queen. 

From Henry VI, Part 1 through Richard III, the fierce Margaret d’Anjou grows from young hostage princess to Queen of England to bitter Lancastrian widow cursing the house of York. Turning the spotlight on this remarkable woman and the forces that shaped her, DE-CRUIT’s two-person show at last frees Margaret from the Shakespearean sidelines.

The only character to appear in all four plays of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses tetralogy (at least, the only one to do so alive), the “She-Wolf of France” may have gotten only supporting roles from the Bard, but she was nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. The daughter of the King of Naples, married at age 15 to the King of England, Margaret’s titles were the least of her accomplishments. Notoriously strong-willed, she guided England during her husband’s frequent spells of insanity, led the Lancastrian forces into battle on at least three occasions, and engaged in intrigues against the ambitious Duke of York worthy of Machiavelli. 

Played with dignity and intensity by Dawn Stern, Margaret gets her due in this intense production, which may be only an hour long, but packs in all the drama of a Shakespearean play, as well as the language of four of them. As this script chronicles it, Margaret’s story begins when she’s captured and married off to Henry VI (played, as are most of the other male roles, by DE-CRUIT founder Stephan Wolfert), a recorder-playing king so preoccupied with religion that he doesn’t seem to notice how odd it is that at age 23 he still has a Lord Protector. As Margaret comes to terms with her new life in England and the enmities that will lead rapidly to the War of the Roses, we see how her encounters with realpolitik, war, brutality, and heartbreak form her into the warrior queen she becomes.

The play is carefully pieced together (by Stern and Wolfert), working in Shakespeare’s best moments for Margaret with some connective tissue that’s more modern, but not obtrusively so. Just as much thoughtfulness is lavished on the physical production as well. The gorgeously evocative costumes created by Raven Ong are surpassed only by the creative and beautifully realized production design. Particularly striking is the multipurpose set piece that serves as a throne, a hanger, and occasionally an actor, and the tightly choreographed action on the small stage is at once intuitive and artful.

Founded as a veteran-based troupe seeking to ease the trauma of war through Shakespeare, DE-CRUIT may have special insight into the character of Margaret, who begins as essentially the spoils of war and proceeds to become its instigator and leader and finally one of its victims.

Directed by Yvette Nolan, She-Wolf reconstructs Margaret’s story capably and convincingly. But it’s also interesting for the contrast it sets up between its actors. Margaret is essentially a monolith, the brave and beleaguered queen played by Stern throughout the entire drama. Even at 15, she’s formidable; even suffering te loss of her only son, she’s powerful. By way of contrast, Wolfert portrays a wide range of roles–from Margaret’s captor and then friend the Duke of Suffolk, to her childish husband, to any number of her enemies in the treacherous English court. He’s accomplished as a shape-shifter, and simply keeping the characters easily identifiable is a tour de force, both in terms of the script and the performance. But what the set-up ultimately seems to suggest is the flux and furor of the world that Margaret faces, in which nothing is solid except herself. And perhaps that is this plays final lesson. Despite her ties to Lancaster, in the end, if Margaret is a wolf, she never finds a pack worthy of her.

Plus-One Commentary: “Even small theaters can benefit from glossy production values.”

Full Disclosure: I am obsessed with Richard III, which probably made this sow easier for me to follow than it might be for normal people.

TICKETS AND TIMING:
Where can you get tickets to She-Wolf?
The Theatre Row website or in person at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42th St., NY, NY, 10038.
What is the running time of She-Wolf?
60 minutes (no intermission, no late seating)
What dates is She-Wolf playing? 
Aug 12, 2022–Aug 20, 2022

Poster designed by Clara Jewel Moore.

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