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A Modern Woman Meets Shakespeare’s Women

The stage was pure black, with two ovals of light on the wall; the only things illuminating the place. Accompanying them were two red chairs on one side, and a small, black stand on the other at the Claire Trevor Theatre.

The show was about to start:            “Women in Shakespeare: From Virgins to Villains.” It was a one-woman monologue about actress Robin Goodrin Nordli’s  life in theater by actress Robin Goodrin Nordli. While only a one-time event at UCI as a part of the Illuminations Colloquium, Nordli takes this performance across multiple schools and locations.

Connecting her own struggles in life to those of the women in Shakespeare, Nordli has created a rather amazing repertoire of acting through numerous plays. In fact, as an actress currently in her 23rd season for the Shakespeare Oregon festival, Nordli has performed in 55 productions of Shakespeare — 47 female roles, 21 male roles, 2 other roles and still counting.

From stage right, Nordli comes in; a blond-haired woman in a black shirt with red accents and a long, dark grey skirt.  Through a brief introduction, she speaks about her beginnings in theater, starting from high school, where she was cast in a major role in “Taming of the Shrew.”

“That play got me the first kiss ever from a boy. It was a staged kiss but it was still a kiss,” said Nordli.

Nordli’s memoir of her life and career in theater was as humorous as it was real. She not only shared her life’s journey, but sprinkled monologues from some of Shakespeare’s infamous women throughout her narrative as well.

From high school, to college, to marriage, to divorce, to community college, to professional performance and marriage again, Nordli provides insight on all the twists and turns she’s experienced. In fact, she’s a prime example of how life is just a mess with coincidental connections that we always try to sort out. For example, she spoke of her marriage troubles and how they led her back to theater, all while using the appropriate metaphors to express herself throughout.

“My romantic comedy life had somehow morphed into a problem play,” she said.

Still, that doesn’t mean the importance of the female characters in Shakespeare’s works take a backseat to her life story. For instance, she reminisced over an adaptation of “Hamlet” she’d seen in which “Hamlet” was portrayed by a woman.

“Everything happened to her on stage. She wasn’t the supporting character, but rather, a character being supported,” sad Nordli. “Her problems weren’t just her love life, they were larger than life. It was fascinating; I’d never known a woman to have that kind of attention and power in a play before.”

This experience eventually connected to Nordli’s performance as Margaret in the numerous parts of “Henry VI.” In this case, there was a particular scene in which Margaret killed a man, and in the audience, Nordli heard a hiss of disapproval from the audience.

“And I think to myself, ‘Really? Really, I’m the bad guy here? I’m the villain? Let’s think about this for a minute. I am not doing anything worse than what my male counterparts are doing.’”

By the end of her hour-long monologue, Nordli provided some witty commentary on how, much like the women portrayed in Shakespeare, she’d grown up from virgin to villainess.

“Maybe in every virgin there’s a villain waiting to get out. Or maybe in every villain, there’s a virgin that got lost.”