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Canadian Stage Legend Martha Henry Dies at 83

Henry had just finished performing in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women at the Stratford Festival.

Martha Henry in the Stratford Festival's 2021 production of Three Tall Women
(© V. Tony Hauser)

Martha Henry, a legendary actor on the Canadian stage, has died the age of 83, just 12 days after playing her final performance in the Stratford Festival's production of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women.

Henry was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, not long before the production was canceled due to Covid. After undergoing treatment, she began rehearsals for Three Tall Women in the summer of 2021, playing early performances with a walker and later moving to a wheelchair. Her last show was October 9.

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1938, Henry graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon). Upon graduating, she headed to Canada instead of New York, eventually becoming a full citizen in 1970. She joined the Stratford acting company in 1962, playing Miranda to William Hutt's Prospero in The Tempest, and was with the Festival for a remarkable 47 seasons through her passing. In addition to acting in 70 shows and directing 14 others, she served as artistic director of the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory for a decade and also directed the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction from 2017-2020.

Beyond Stratford, she served as Artistic Director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, from 1988-1994. She acted and directed at the Shaw Festival, the National Arts Centre, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Calgary, Vancouver's Arts Club and Edmonton's Citadel;, and at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. On Broadway, she worked with the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center in The Playboy of the Western World, Antigone, Narrow Road to the Deep North, Twelfth Night, and The Crucible from 1970-72, receiving a Theatre World Award for her performances.

Her Shakespearean roles ran the gamut: Miranda, Lady Macduff, Cressida, Luciana, Phrynia, Rosaline, Cordelia, Lady Percy, Joan la Pucelle, Viola, Titania, Desdemona, Thaisa, Constance, Isabella, both Helenas, Lady Anne, Beatrice, Paulina, the Princess of France, Doll Tearsheet, Goneril, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth, Cymbeline's Queen, Queen Eleanor, the Countess of Rossillion, Queen Margaret, and Prospero. She directed productions including Of Mice and Men, An Enemy of the People, Three Sisters, All My Sons, and Henry VIII, which was released as a film this past year.

After making her 1962 debut with Hutt in The Tempest, she shared the stage with him on numerous occasions, notably as Mary to his James Tyrone in 1994'sLong Day's Journey into Night , for which she earned a Genie Award. Another of her favorite leading men was Brian Bedford, with whom she starred in Much Ado About Nothing, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale.

In 1989, Ms Henry married actor Rod Beattie. The two worked together on many productions, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Henry VIII (which she directed), The Tempest. Beattie is among her survivors.

Stratford will hold a memorial for Henry in the coming months. The Festival captured a performance of Three Tall Women on film in the hope of securing the rights to share it. The first Shakespeare production at the Tom Patterson Theatre will be dedicated to her memory.


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