"Sleep now," a tired Prince Henry begs his teenage bride. "Let the castle rest." He does not see the fires of rage in her eyes when she slams the door, seething, "The castle will rest no more!" The young bride is Margaret of Anjou, and in Sarah Overman's historical drama Her Majesty the King, we watch her grow from a feisty young girl to a resilient woman warrior who casts her weakling husband aside to wage war over the land he has pathetically given to his enemies.
A story focusing on royal family feuds that span generations and divide countries can easily become bogged down in dry historical data. Fortunately, Overman's characters are so interesting that we listen closely to their poetic, old English dialogue, eager to learn the twists and turns that have brought them to this point in their lives.
The play opens with a young Margaret (Lisa McCormick) sleeping peacefully in a bedchamber veiled by a billowing white sheet. Suddenly, she is aroused by a ghostly murmur and the image of an old woman's scowling eyes looking through her curtain. She instantly recognizes the apparition as her deceased grandmother, Yolande of Aragon (Mimi Cozzens), who warns her to stay away from England and return to France. Horrified, Margaret points out that it is too late. She is on a boat that is about to dock on English shores.
Once she is plucked from the boat, Margaret scarcely has time to utter a greeting before she is met with swarming palace aides who adorn her with jewelry and harshly dress her in a shimmering red gown. After a ring is shoved on her finger, the aides deposit her in the bedroom where she is to meet her husband and produce an heir.
Unfortunately, her new groom, Henry VI (Michael Keyloun), is a lanky man with nervous ticks and jerky movements who is terribly frightened of leadership. While he shies away from the throne, his vicious opponent, the Duke of York (Jason Kolotouros), gets closer to seizing it for himself. Seven years after his marriage to Margaret, Henry VI finally gives in and lets him have it. Margaret is furious. Not only has she been married into a family that is about to become obsolete, but she has just given birth to a male heir. She wails that her son will now be a stranger to his country—"he who should be king!"
What we see next is the strength of a woman determined to fight for the life that is rightfully hers. If her husband is not going to act as king, she will do it for him. She sheds her youthful gowns and emerges as an armored adult warrior, played with vigor and fortitude by Diana LaMar. As an inspiring speaker and valiant and fearless fighter, she is followed into battle regardless of the fact that she is a woman.
The 15th-century Wars of the Roses ensue, in which the houses of York and Lancaster struggle for the throne of England. Yet there is so much more at stake than the outcome of this conflict. While the characters in this play dutifully assume the leadership roles they were born to play, they have moments of heartbreaking vulnerability where they long to marry for love and have children who are not likely to die on a battlefield. McCormick's portrayal of Margaret in these scenes is painful to watch. Beneath the layers of armor is a child's soul that yearns for a carefree life free of crowns, titles, or inheritance. Her character shines a harsh light on royal marriage, showing how easily the world forgets that people born to be pawns are still born people.
Margaret's role in history is not complimentary. Some would argue rightfully so, since she caused a war in a country she was sold to for peace. But in Her Majesty the King we see the human side of this often vilified queen. Here, she is a young girl, a doting mother, a loved mistress, a loyal granddaughter, and a strong, intelligent leader. This story is likely to make even her biggest detractors pause and wonder if maybe her only real crime in life was to skillfully play the cards she was dealt in a world where females were not expected to understand the game.