Harriet Walter about town

Perhaps you're tired of hearing about Harriet Walter? That's okay, I'm tired of hearing about Tom Brady and Roger Federer and every sports team that has ever lived. Not that I begrudge human beings for loving sports or sports figures or balls of any kind (hey there, fella) but come on. Try counting the number of manly team logos you see the next time you walk down the street or hang out at the mall. If you come up with fewer than five I will pay you a million billion unicorn dollars and a thousand magic beans. My point is, the day people stop talking about Michael Jordan is the day I'll stop talking about Harriet Walter. Obviously neither of those things will ever happen, but somehow we'll all survive. Somehow life will go on.

Anyway, here are some pictures from an interview and book signing last night at the Drama Book Shop, starring Harriet Walter (ironically not pictured), who recently penned this tome about her long and varied Shakespeare career, which thanks to her collaboration with director Phyllida Lloyd now includes multiple male characters. Brava/o! Contrary to popular belief, Harriet Walter does not come to town all that often, so it's important to celebrate these events. "Americans are so effusive!" was her response to me shouting "Harriet Walter, we love it when you come to town!" across the signing table, and she was suitably impressed by the array of nonsensical nicknames we asked her to inscribe. She probably thought we were idiots. I cannot say she would be wrong.

At the end of the interview she read the book's epilogue, which is a "Dear Will" letter asking William Shakespeare to come back from the grave and correct his ladies. On getting the chance to finally be cast as the dudes (in Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and The Tempest), she writes: "My function in the story is no longer constrained by my gender, and I am freed up to play out the general political and moral dilemmas that concern us all." And later, vis-Ă -vis her frustration over the limited scope of the female roles, "Our stories matter not because of our relation to men but because we are members of the human race."

But my favorite line was from the interview itself, when asked why she's never played Gertrude in Hamlet: "It's the most famous play in the world and it has two shitty roles for women!"

The one thing I know is this world needs more Harriet Walter in it.

The End (for now).

Another Harriet Walter Weekend

My only duck-n-cover move for the next X years is: find some friends & never stop laughing, and every once in a while toss in Dame Harriet Walter.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Xth annual Dame Harriet Walter Weekend

The Dame Harriet Walter Society has been observing Dame Harriet Walter Weekends for almost six years now, since before Harriet Walter was even a dame, but for this one:

  • We dragged our carcases out to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn for the all-female women-in-prison Donmar production of Henry IV starring—you guessed it—Dame Harriet Walter;
  • Arrived 30 minutes late for the matinee thanks to a scheduling snafu and the goddamn motherfucking MTA, which led to
  • Being seated in stealth fashion in a completely different section than the one we were originally ticketed for, which meant that
  • We were sitting "literally" (literally) at Dame Harriet Walter's feet when she emerged from the backstage scaffolding to give her big "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" speech.
  • It was very exciting! 
  • We had to crane our necks up and back in order to see her, although I couldn't hear a word she was saying because I was too aware that this was Dame Harriet Walter spouting Shakespeare while standing close enough for you (me) to grab the hem of her dingy sad old man's bathrobe, and during the course of this speech she spit not once but multiple times on SarahB, which in the end is exactly the sort of visceral, once-in-a-lifetime event that live theatre is all about if you're a particular kind of fan (spoiler: we are particular kinds of fans. I hope this is not news to you.).
  • p.s. at one point Dame Harriet Walter played the flute. In high school I played the flute. This means nothing in the context of anything but it was also very exciting.
  • Post-game we repaired to the wilds of DUMBO (ugh) for happy hour and candlelight pasta at AlMar (topnotch! delicioso! mangia mangia),
  • Followed by ice cream, Cheetos, and a late-night viewing of—obviously—Have His Carcase; i.e., the one with all the tweed, short pants, quarrels, and Haviland Martin the murthering pony.
  • This morning we woke up early to watch Gaudy Night and plot our next DHWW-related adventures, both international and domestic.

To paraphrase Ann Patchett in Bel Canto, certainly I know that Dame Harriet Walter isn't for everyone, but for everyone I hope there is something. 

Happy Harriet Walter Day

What fun we've had thanks to Harriet Walter, even though she's a head chopper. She had her reasons.

Here: "I then went out for a little champagne lunch," she tells unsuspecting frenemy Janet McTeer. Plus extra points to Liza, just for bein' Liza.

With special thanks to Jerry the Nipper for the twitter tip-off, because for some reason I did not have Harriet Walter's birthday marked in my calendar (oversight corrected, my good man). French Fridays will return next Friday, but today we're all Brits. Now go fetch me a brolly and a pint, hip hip!

First annual Harriet Walter Weekend

I haven't yet come up with a proper way to describe this weekend, during which we paid tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Austen, and the great Harriet Walter. HEY, HARRIET WALTER! Who has become both adjective and verb, both exclamation and censure. Not only my favorite thing about the summer but quite possibly the year—it amazes me to trace back the tally of riches that blossomed from one play, and one actress, and one book, and one author, which led to another and another and another and grows still, in twenty directions at once, with dear good friends to share them, and in one fell swoop renewing my faith in lucky stars.

Our weekend? Part pilgrimage, part reading group, part movie marathon, part food fest, part cocktail hour, part slumber party, and all decidedly, deliciously, wickedly gaudy. And now we have the book bags to prove it.

Oh SarahB & RoxieZ, what marvelous fun! I can't wait to polish up those monocles next year, and do it all over again.

The Summer of Harriet Walter concludes

One of the benefits of living here—one of the reasons I moved here—is the opportunity to be thisclose to those types of creative endeavors that bring me, as they say, unalloyed joy. Could I be such a snob as to call it "culture"? I am officially from the Midwest, so I think I can. I think I've earned that right by virtue of my smalltown America Wisconsin-ness. And this summer, for better or worse, such joy was manifest in this Broadway production of Mary Stuart, and also in the oddball roundabout lineage that brought into being the Summer of Harriet Walter, factors that have only tangentially to do with either Harriet Walter or Janet McTeer and everything to do with the small, cherished band of dear friends who accompanied me on this adventure and the memories we keep of it. At the same time, if you see a lot of theater you'll surely understand—much like anything else—how little of it strikes something within you and is actually worth remembering—and even less revisiting and celebrating—and therefore how regrettable it is to finally see it go. Thus, today, the end of Mary Stuart. Alas.

Here is SarahB inquiring, rather bossily, after the the window card the Earl of Leicester (John Benjamin Hickey) somehow managed to procure for himself, when in fact such things were nowhere to be had by the general public. Undoubtedly she would have snatched it out of his bag had it been dark outside, and not 1000 degrees in the shade.

Here is the delightful Maria Tucci (who played Mary's nurse, Hanna Kennedy) with the Real Harriet Walter.

This photo was taken just after I actually said, "Harriet Walter, you were my favorite thing about this summer," to which the Real Harriet Walter replied, "That's very sweet; then you'll be my favorite thing, too." P.S.: That is Sir Mortimer (Chandler Williams) in the background. But this was not "The Summer of Chandler Williams."

Here are Roxie and Chelsea with the Real Harriet Walter. This was taken after Chelsea shouted "HEY, HARRIET WALTER!" out loud in the public sphere, right there on the sidewalk at the Broadhurst stage door. Chelsea PR's things for a living, so she knows how to get the word out there.

After dinner—where we were seated for a short time at a table next to Janet McTeer and Marian Seldes, and were later told to pipe down by a certain crabby apple at another nearby table—we were strolling up 44th St. when Roxie suddenly glanced at the sidewalk opposite, spied the actual Janet McTeer, and hollered, "Oh hey, Janet McTeer, WHAT UP?" Which is not typically what one does when one spies a famous person at random in New York City but might in fact be the single most fabulous thing I have ever been lucky enough to witness in person. Truly the perfect Harriet Walter close to the perfect Harriet Walter summer.

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It pains me to say this, but: THE END.

The Summer of Harriet Walter continues

Chelsea and Roxie came to town to see "Mary Stuart" last night, and SarahB and I tried to make it worth their while. We sat in Row D of the orchestra, and director Phyllida Lloyd was in the row behind us, which was terribly exciting since she also directed "Mamma Mia," which means she has a lot of money. (Also, during intermission the woman in front of us turned to ask Roxie and me if we could please talk about smelly feet when the man sitting next to her returned to his chair, in the hopes of convincing him by proxy to keep his shoes on during the second act. We assured her we would take care of it and let's just say, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.)

We stagedoored after the show because, come on, and if you've never been so lucky as to meet theater nerds up close and in person, I think this pretty well demonstrates that they are a special breed.

Here Chelsea and Roxie stand slightly in terror and much in awe of the Real Harriet Walter. I believe SOMEONE told Harriet Walter that as Queen Elizabeth she reminded her of her boss, and then Sarah said we watched "Sense and Sensibility" earlier in the day and loved it when she pinched the nose of Miss Lucy Steele. Harriet Walter just laughed and laughed, as what else could the poor woman possibly do. (You'll notice the wide moon of POTO waxing just over her shoulder, which adds an extra dose of awesome to the whole affair.)

The Real Harriet Walter further humored us by signing my 1936 copy of "Gaudy Night." She starred as Harriet Vane in the BBC TV adaptation 20 years ago so it's not totally random yet not terribly apropos of anything at all, but this is what happens when you cross-pollinate a theater nerd with a book nerd and a TV nerd; i.e., NERD SPARKS FLY. The ultimate nerd note, of course, is that she actually signed it "Harriet Walter (Vane)." Which means that she understands what it is to stand in front of someone you admire and ask them to bless something you love.

 And here is Janet McTeer, with whom these two now enjoy a special relationship.

After the show we were desperately in need of cocktails, and as we walked through the window of the restaurant who should we find sitting inside but John Benjamin Hickey, who plays the shifty Lord Leicester. And no sooner were we shown to our table when Sarah said, Look who's at the hostess station, pointing to director Phyllida Lloyd and the Real Harriet Walter, who were ushered away to a special table and later joined by Janet McTeer and more of the cast. Much later than that, Phyllida Lloyd came back down to the bar to pay their bill and I got to thank her for bringing us this wonderful production, although she declined my invitation to cover our tab.

Somewhere in the midst of all this we actually managed to accost the good-humored and gracious John Benjamin Hickey as he passed by our table. He seemed very excited by how excited we were about the show, and he chatted and signed autographs and posed for pictures. For some reason all I could think to say as he put his arm around me was "I'm sorry I'm wearing my glasses."

"Not a problem," said John Benjamin Hickey as he quickly donned his specs. "So will I." At which point SarahB hit him with the spotlight.

Ah, Broadway! Unfortunately for all of us, in two weeks' time the Summer of Harriet Walter officially comes to a close.