Gender Bending the Role of A King

Feb 9, 2018

Sarah Fallon, who has been with the American Shakespeare Center since 2004, will play the role of King Richard II.
Credit American Shakespeare Center

Drawing crowds to a small town to see Shakespeare can be challenging, but the Blackfriar’s Theater in Staunton finds way to intrigue the public. This season, for example, it has cast a woman in the role of Richard the Second.

Sarah Fallon has been with the American Shakespeare Center since 2004, so its creative director knew her talents and was happy to offer her a leading role. She didn’t hesitate to accept the part of King Richard, knowing Shakespeare was a master of gender bending. In his time, women could not be on stage, so young men and boys were cast in women’s roles.

“And he writes these beautiful strong women, so I think he would be thrilled,” she says.

In this play, the king is forced off the thrown.

“Richard is a man who has only known power his entire life, and in this play he is completely stripped of that and does not know who he is without it,” she explains.

And frankly, Fallon says, women who like to accommodate others, know how it feels to surrender control.

“You find yourself giving up power in ways that you don’t even realize it sometimes – you know just in a conversation when you might get shutdown.”

But she loves the role and finds it strangely familiar.

“He demands loyalty, and when that is not there for him he is upset by that,” Fallon says. “He loves to be in the spotlight. There’s something narcissistic about Richard, which is really fun.”

The king was also one who made controversial decisions that did not end well for him.  He died in prison. The show runs through early April.

The American Shakespeare Center is a financial supporter of RADIO IQ.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.