Upon getting their coffee they sit close to each other; you can see the glow in their eyes as they exchange occasional glances and smiles. They radiate love.
“We have been together for three years, but we met a long time ago in the University of Ottawa theatre department,” Margo MacDonald
says. “I used to watch her.”
Virginia West interrupts: “I was out. Well technically, I had just come out and met a girl and moved in with that girl — all the same day.” They giggle and sigh, seemingly slipping back into that moment for a second.
“And then three years ago, I was in a show at The Gladstone theatre, and Virginia was in the lobby, and time slowed, and the crowds parted and it was magical,” MacDonald says, with a coy glance at West.
“My heart leaped out of my chest into hers,” West says.
The two take the stage in the Company of Fools
’ summer production of Henry V
, playing Monday to Saturday until Aug 18 in parks across the Ottawa Valley. Directed by Geoff McBride, the show has a cast of four women and one man, in spite of the fact that all the characters but one are male.
“He knew it would bring out a lot of fun stuff. Children, especially, forget that the women playing male characters are women, so when it comes to the big kiss at the end, it seems a bit queer,” MacDonald says.
“For me, it’s the fulfillment of a dream of the last decade," West says. "I have changed and embraced a lot of my butch identity, and I get to play someone like me. I get to be a girl who is strong and masculine, and that is the area of art that interests me.”
The show is presented with a serious genderqueer twist. From the French king and Dauphin portrayed as prancing school girls to a crossdressing teddy bear, and with the only female character, Princess Catherine, portrayed by the only male cast member, the show challenges traditional gender identity and expression in one of Shakespeare’s most notable historical works.
Though what might surprise audiences is MacDonald’s portrayal of Henry. In her many intense and heroic speeches one forgets she is acting. Audiences are left wondering what gender has to do with the roles and get lost in the inner value of the character. It’s a true credit to her skills as an actor.
“Henry V actually has a lot of gay content,” MacDonald says, steering the conversation away from my praise of her art.
“One of Henry’s attempted assassins and close friend, Scrope, is referred to as his bedfellow, and I get to do a monologue that speaks directly to his betrayal and how heart-wrenching it is.”
In the show, MacDonald looks at the actress and brushes her cheek, while Scrope dare not look at his lover, ashamed at his treachery. It’s intense.
West points out something important: “There happens to be two out lesbians onstage in Ottawa, which hasn’t happened here often. There is still a stigma that actors who come out get pigeonholed to be playing stereotypical characters. And that’s not unique to Ottawa; there are few places in Canada where female actors come out."
“It’s true," MacDonald adds when she sees the surprise on my face. "Most people know that half the people involved are queer, but it’s still taboo to be out. It’s a bit fortunate for me that I took so long to come out, and as such people got to know me as an actor first.”
“Still, I know when I get onstage people see a butch dyke, and I love that,” West says proudly.