Review: BY THE QUEEN at Trinity Rep

The world premiere of Whitney White's smart, spirited play runs at Trinity Rep through February 12.

By: Jan. 23, 2023
Review: BY THE QUEEN at Trinity Rep
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Shakespeare's plays are a man's world, and one of his most ubiquitous female characters has something to say about it.

His depictions of Margaret of Anjou - the 15th-century French princess who became England's queen with her marriage to Henry VI - are not as well-known among modern audiences as his Juliets and Ophelias. But she has an outsized role in Shakespeare's oeuvre, appearing in Henry IV Parts 1-3 and Richard III. These four plays offer us a look at Margaret as she moves through stages of her adult life, from captive young princess to powerful queen to exiled widow. But how full a picture do these plays - drawn from an unabashedly patriarchal vantage point - paint of Margaret's many phases, and of the desires and heartbreaks that motivate them?

BY THE QUEEN - written by rising playwright, director, and performer Whitney White - explores what happens when Margaret herself is given the chance to offer her own account of her long, dizzying life. Directed by Brian McEleney, Trinity Rep's world premiere of the play is a lively night of theater that invites audiences to consider what it was and still is, to be a woman telling her story within a history written by men.

The play gives us three Margarets, each played by a different actress: the idealistic princess (Fiona Marie Maguire) who faces disillusionment and danger as Henry VI's young queen, the unapologetic monarch (Rachel Christopher) who forges a vertiginous path between "bold" and "ruthless," and the widowed exile (Paula Plum) who - free from the bloody power struggles that defined the English court - is afforded space to reflect on her life and choices, with a glass of red wine always in hand. These three Margarets share the stage, appealing to the audience and to each other, as a chorus of male characters circle - sometimes challenging Margaret's reclamation of her story, other times supporting it.

By the Queen by <a target=Whitney White" height="532" src="" width="800" />
Fiona Marie Maguire, Paula Plum, and Rachel Christopher as Shakespeare's Queen Margaret in Trinity Rep's production of Whitney White's By the Queen. All photos: Mark Turek.

Both the real-life Margaret and her Shakespearean counterpart have complicated legacies. She was resourceful, fearless, and smart, with the tenacity and spirit of survivor; she was also sometimes merciless, causing others to suffer immensely to protect not her life but her power. White's play depicts some of these darker moments without delving too deeply into them. One wonders where White's inventive conceit would have taken audiences, had they been invited to like Margaret a little bit less and to entertain her interlocutors just a little bit more. But it's hard not to enjoy a show with such a winning central character - a former monarch who successfully casts herself as an unlikely underdog - and BY THE QUEEN is a smart, creative, and entertaining take on this famous historical and literary figure.

All three actresses breathe vivid life into their Margarets, maintaining her indomitable spirit while also capturing the ways that her character transforms as she moves from an endangered outsider to an emboldened queen to an aging exile. Christopher is especially commanding as Queen Margaret at the height of her political power, and the exchanges between her and Maguire's young Margaret crackle with the tension between middle age and the naive youth it recalls with both envy and impatience. The male supporting cast members are likewise adroit, with Jeff Church putting in a particularly memorable performance as a Shakespeare purist who blithely mansplains Margaret's life to her throughout the show.

Under McEleney's direction, the production is both lively and immersive. Set designer Michael McGarty has transformed Trinity's Dowling Theater into a cabaret, with some of the audience seating onstage, where Margaret and her chorus of men perform in the round. Dialog is delivered conversationally, and actors break the fourth wall - sometimes improvising with audience members, other times breaking into personal monologues given as themselves, rather than the characters they're playing.

The effect is a show both intimate and intellectually playful - one whose centuries-old heroine feels very much at home in the 21st century.

Trinity Rep's BY THE QUEEN runs through February 12 at 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI. Tickets start at $25. They are available online at and via phone at 401-351-4242.


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