More convenient home bases exist than D.C. for an actress in her prime, as Yelland discovered after “Brief Encounter” ended in early 2011. “That was the hardest time,” she recalls of the frequent departures from the District for auditions. “I was traveling up to New York two times a week for 10-minute sessions. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ ”
Which is partly why, when her agent told her there was interest in her for Taichman’s “The Winter’s Tale,” a co-production with Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, she dearly wanted to play Hermione. She was at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, appearing in an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic novel “My Cousin Rachel,” so she had to tape her audition. “And it was a really bad audition,” she says. “I was nervous because I so desperately wanted the job.”
She didn’t get it. Then, in December, as her Dublin stay was ending, “they came back again.” The word was that her initial audition lacked the emotional depth for the harrowing losses and accusations Hermione must endure: “They said it was still Noel Coward.” Believing the role was “meant for me,” she went to the costume staff at the Gate. “I said, ‘Can you find me a shift sort of thing and put some blood and dirt on it?’ I learned the lines completely and put them on tape. Next day, I got the offer.”
Hermione is one of Shakespeare’s most mysterious and beguiling women. Found to be chaste by none other than the oracle at Delphi, Hermione collapses at her trial and is declared dead. She is not to be seen for another 16 years, when her friend Paulina reveals her as a living statue to the repentant Leontes.
Yelland says that Shakespeare’s embrace of magic is reflected in Taichman’s production, in the way it uses theater’s transformative properties. “It’s a very magical reveal — jaw-dropping,” she says of Hermione’s return to life. “It’s also about the magical nature of forgiveness, the magic that occurs when Hermione makes the choice to come back into the world.”
The metaphor has resonance for Yelland’s American adventure. As she notes, “The Winter’s Tale” not only marks the first production she has appeared in that was developed in this country, it is also her first professional Shakespeare. That an English stage actress came here for her first transformation into a character by her nation’s most celebrated playwright carries its own improbable magic.
The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Through June 23 at Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW. Go to www.shakespearetheatre.
org or call 202-547-1122.