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“The Girl Who Would Be King” – What would Twain have done?

July 6, 2010

Director Richard Tatum loves stories that begin Once upon a time…. “And this one does,” he says. “When you hear that phrase, it doesn’t matter how old you are, part of you settles in for a good story. But this one’s definitely for grownups.” 

Richard Tatum

It’s a story (“A Medieval Romance“) that Mark Twain started, then stopped. Tatum says, “I saw a reading of Jan O’Connor’s piece two years ago and fell in love with it. I found it deeply touching and when [wife] Tracy Eliott and I started Absolute Theatre , I knew we had to kick it off with this one.” [Tatum is Ark Theatre’s former Associate Artistic Director; Eliott was Finance Director.]

“I grew up on an island in Maine and always played in the woods with the boys,” says actress Riley Rose Critchlow, who portrays Basil. She admits to having had no ‘little girl’ training. “No one ever said to me ‘This is how you sit. This is how you act. This is how you dress’ so it’s just in my nature, I suppose, to see a masculine role on an equal field as a feminine role. It’s just another aspect of one’s personality or human nature.” 

Whitton Frank & Riley Rose Critchlow

Critchlow, a recent theatre graduate from USC, has played several roles that were “either androgynous or guys playing girls or guys straight up” and thought this was right up her alley. “It’s mostly a different center of gravity. For this specific role,” she says, “there’s a lot of training from my father to be a man and do all these manly activities, so I have to use posturing, mirroring what’s in front of me. As my character grows up, she becomes more aware of who she is, but then things become so much more complicated!” 

Tatum adds that Critchlow has a “really wonderful gravelly voice (she does) and a staid masculine quality.” He says she’d be the first to admit she has abnormally large hands and feet for a girl, though I forget to ask over the phone if she agrees. “It’s less about gender bending the actress,” Tatum says, “than the expectation of gender and our children. The plot revolves around a girl raised by her father to be a boy. It speaks to parental and societal expectations and demands. It brings up salient points about letting people be who they are, even though it’s set in a medieval time.” 

Tatum’s parents, he says, were particularly supportive of his going into the arts. “Unlike a set of my grandparents who were just-off-the-boat Russian immigrants. My dad was one of the premiere double reed players in the world. My parents believed in letting people be who they are.” 

Can we let people be who they are? Our neighbors? Our children? Our parents? “The people in the play thought it absurd that a woman could be a ruler and that a woman could like another woman [romantically]. All of these questions,” Critchlow points out, “rocked their society and they rock ours, too. There’s not a balance of wages between men and women today, for example, and there’s certainly not an acceptance of the LGBT community. By putting these characters in such an archaic situation it’s easy for an audience to say, ‘Oh, that’s silly. They’re being so closed minded.’ But when you walk into the lobby, it may well occur to you that things are not that different today.” 

The world premiere of THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING runs at the El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro, Los Angeles through August 1, 2010. Fri-Sat 8pm; Sun 2pm. (323) 230-7261. Written by Jan O’Connor. This is the inaugural collaboration between Full Circle Theatrics and Absolute Theatre. Cast includes Adriana Bate, J. Blakemore, Warren Davis, Shelley Delayne, Tracy Eliott, Sean Faye, Whitton Frank, Ross Gottstein and Patty Jean Robinson. Tickets $20.

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