In Part Five of our series of interviews with the cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet, meet Nafeesa Monroe.
Joel: How did you become involved with this production of Hamlet? I heard they hadn’t found their Gertrude yet from a good friend and he spoke very highly of the production.
What did you perform at your audition?
Nafeesa: I just performed the Gertrude sides with (coincidentally) the young man who is playing Hamlet (Manu). I remember going in to do the “Closet Scene” with him and I just told him that he can push me around as much as he needed and that I would be okay. I don’t usually do that with actors I don’t know, but I knew I could trust him!
Why did you want to play the role of (Gertrude), and what is the most fun about playing him/her?
Gertrude is a great role and incredibly complex. However, in my lifetime, I have never seen an African-American Gertrude, so when that opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance. The wonderful part about playing Gertrude is that so much is left unsaid that it leaves room for me as the actress to fill in the blanks. And I have a wonderfully dangerous imagination!
What are some of the suggestions that Sally has given you on playing your role that has made your performance better? She and I both agreed that Gertrude is strong, not weak, a leader, not a follower, and that, she is really in love with Claudius.
What do you admire about the design of the show and how does the design of the show affect and enhance your performance?
I like its simplicity; it allows the text and the actor to shine. I also really like setting the show in the modern world. It allows for a difference perspective, especially for the women.
When did you get the ‘Theater Bug’?
When I was ten years old in my home town theatre, the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre (PACT).
Where did you get your theatre training?
From PACT growing up. I studied (but did not major in) theatre in undergrad. I then studied with the Martin Barter and The Meisner School of Acting. My MFA in Classical Acting is from The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at The George Washington University.
What other Shakespearean roles have you played?
I played several Lords in As You Like It (all male) and Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Other than your character here, which other character in Hamlet is your favorite?
Laertes because he’s such a hot head!
What are your favorite lines that another characters recite?
“Ay, what an ass am I? “(Hamlet) I just like Hamlet’s introspection here. He is so smart, yet realizes he was such a fool in one way or another.
“This above all, to thine own self be true.” (Polonius) What better advice is there in the world? Be who you are, not anything other than that.
What are your favorite lines that you recite?
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” – It’s just such a famous line and I love that I get to say it for that reason. :)
“Oh Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain. “- For Gertrude, this is one of her most honest moments of literally being torn apart on the inside by what has happened with her, Claudius, and Hamlet.
What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances and each other’s performance?
I enjoy the willingness to continually find the text anew. It can be hard to do such a famous play, there are so many films and clips of plays that one could adhere to as to how to play a particular scene, however, this cast really focuses on what we, as a company, are creating. That willingness to play is what makes it so joyful to be a part of.
Which character in the play is most like you?
Probably Ophelia. I have a very clear understanding of that feeling of being sent over the edge by the tragedies in life.
How can 2014 audiences relate to Hamlet?
As with all of his plays, Shakespeare’s works transcend time. At its heart, Hamlet is about family dynamics, a desire for power, and love. I think everyone has an understanding of at least one, if not all, of these concepts.
What roles that you haven’t played yet are on your top 5 list?
Queen Margaret;Hermione;Lady Macbeth;Joan LaPucelle; and Hotspur.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Hamlet?
That Shakespeare is for everyone, and anyone. I want each person in the audience to be able to see a part of themselves on stage and to have allowed us to take them on a journey that they may not have otherwise experienced.
Amanda Gunther’s review on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 1: Manu Kumasi.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 2: Audrey Bertaux.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 3: Paul E. Hope.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company: Part 4: George Page.