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Juliet Rylance Has Spirit

The talented actress discusses starring in Classic Stage Company's production of The Cherry Orchard. logo
Juliet Rylance
(© Cecil Gilliard)
Juliet Rylance, who is starring as the practical Varya in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, now playing at Classic Stage Company, has quickly become one of the stage's most sought-after young actresses. And the part of Varya is one she relishes playing.

"Shakespeare and Chekhov for me go hand in glove. I watched my father [actor Mark Rylance, who married her mother when Juliet was seven] playing Shakespeare for years and years, so Shakespeare has always been my first love in the theater. I always imagined after I'd had my spell of Shakespeare for awhile, the next thing I would do is Chekhov. And after playing Rosalind (for the Bridge Project), I felt that was a great point to take a break and do Chekhov."

Varya is actually Rylance's second go-round at Chekhov for Classic Stage, having co-starred as Irina last season in their acclaimed production of The Three Sisters. But this is a very different role. Varya runs the estate that her adoptive mother, Ranevskaya (Dianne Wiest), abandoned for 10 years after her son died. Now Ranevskaya has returned, just as the estate is to be auctioned, and she refuses to grasp the solution to their financial woes devised by their neighbor Lopakhin (John Turturro).

"I think that Varya is someone with a very big heart," says Rylance. "She's been brought into this family as an adopted child, and she's never felt quite worthy. And so she decides to take on looking after everyone and after the house. She's like no other character I've played so far in the sense that she doesn't really know how to express her feelings as openly as Irina in Three Sisters, or Rosalind or Desdemona, for that matter. I think that, as the play goes on, her frustration with the rest of the family's denial in seeing what an awful situation they're in makes her more controlling and frustrated and desperate."

John Turturro and Juliet Rylance in The Cherry Orchard
(© Carol Rosegg)
Varya is also in love with Lopakhin, whose family were once serfs on Ranevskaya's estate. Everyone expects Lopakhin to ask Varya to marry him, and the scene is always a touchstone of any production. "Those scenes are always unique, because in each production you have two different actors playing them," she says. "I think the best thing one can do is try and come in with no preconceived ideas and just play. And I'm really grateful I'm doing that scene with John, because we were able in rehearsals not to block it, not to make any decisions, and to keep it open. It's exciting every night because neither of us knows quite what the other is going to do."

Coming up next for Rylance is "a family passion project," a film that her husband, actor Christian Camargo, has written a script for. She can't say much about it yet, except that it's based on a classic play, updated to 1984, and set in rural New England.

And although there will be Shakespearean roles in her future, she doesn't have a set goal in mind. "I think I'm just going to wait to see which one comes up naturally," she says. "Often you get handed these archetypal roles at key moments in your life when they make sense. I played Desdemona just as I left England and came to this new world, America. And that's very simpatico with Desdemona's leaving Venice for Cyprus. And as Rosalind, I was embarking on that journey having just been newly wed."

Speaking of Shakespeare, her father's views on the authorship of his plays are well known. But who does she think wrote the plays? "Oh, no!" she wails, then breaks into sustained laughter. "No one's ever asked me that! I love the mystery of it. And I think there's no harm in looking at other people during that period and exploring the idea of someone else having written them. I think we miss that many people were dedicated to expanding the English language: Mary Sidney, whose brother Philip was the poet laureate; Francis Bacon; the Earl of Oxford; Ben Jonson; Marlowe. I think it's great to look at the plays in relation to other people who were around at that time. All that can do is shed more light on the Elizabethan period and tell us more about the rich fabric of London and the countryside during that time, and about the society in which Shakespeare wrote."

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