Boys Will Be Girls — The Waxing, Wigs, Couture and Corsets of Shakespeare's Leading Ladies
By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Mark Rylance, Samuel Barnett and Paul Chahidi share some of the secrets behind their performances in Twelfth Night and Richard III on Broadway.
You may know Shakespeare. You attend Shakespeare in the Park every summer. You may even have a Shakespeare app on your phone (guilty!). But you haven't really seen Shakespeare until you've seen the double bill — Twelfth Night and Richard III — running in rep at the Belasco Theatre. The critical smash hits — imported from Shakespeare's Globe in London — rely on Elizabethan-era conventions: Candlelight; bare scenery; live music on such instruments as the hurdy gurdy; and actors — including two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance (Jerusalem, Boeing-Boeing), Samuel Barnett (The History Boys) and Paul Chahidi — in the female roles... just as it would have been in the Bard's day.
Rylance stars as the mutilated Richard III, then as the lovestruck Olivia in Twelfth Night; Barnett plays hard-hearted Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, and Viola, who disguises herself as Cesario in Twelfth Night; Chahidi doubles as the eventually-beheaded Hastings and the sleazy Tyrrell in Richard III, then plays saucy servant Maria in Twelfth Night. These leading men — er, women — gave us the dish on their roles ("There's a lot of my mother in Olivia," said Rylance), and we discovered the following surprising facts about these women and the men who play them.
Shakespeare can be intimidating for actors too.
Shakespeare can also be painful. Very painful.
They're not playing women, per se.
Chahidi remembered first tackling Maria a decade ago: "We did research, how women of that period might move. We experimented with our voices. It got quite scientific! We went through all these contortions, we had all these worries, and I came back to square one and realized: All I needed to do was play the character truthfully. And it just so happened to be a woman."
Not everything you see is original practice.
It's not costumes; it's couture.
Those dresses are built for class, not for comfort.
Paul Chahidi's awe-inspiring cleavage is the envy of his male costars.
Rylance conceded that Chahidi's décolletage is "rather spectacular," likening it to "a deep river valley." But, he reminded us, the role of Olivia demands a conservative, non–cleavage-baring black gown: "I'm much more discreet and in mourning. My dress comes right up to my neck. Otherwise I would win hands down."
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