Her way or the highway: "Miss Margarida" at Adams Pool

by Simon de Carvalho '14

This weekend, the Adams Pool Theater has been transformed into a classroom, and the visiting professor is the eponymous totalitarian in Roberto Athayde’s Miss Margarida’s Way. The one-woman play is a near-90 minute monologue (or maybe lecture is the better word) that delves into the psyche of the tyrannical Miss Margarida, and examines societal structures of power, oppression and the futility of progress. Miss Margarida’s Way has two remaining performances: 8 p.m. Oct. 5 (tonight) and 2 p.m. Oct. 6 (Sunday) at the Adams Pool Theater.

I spoke with Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15, who plays Miss Margarida, about the process of creating this challenging show.

What was the rehearsal process like? Can you talk about some difficulties or challenges you may have had?

Once [director] Joey Longstreet ‘16 and I got back to campus this semester, we started working through the script "moment by moment," as we called it. The most difficult part of the rehearsal process (aside from memorizing 59 pages of monologue, of course) was understanding the play. There are some lines I still don't understand. But I think that every reader or audience member can have a different interpretation of the piece. So even though Joey and I tried our best to develop and convey our own interpretation, what matters most is that every audience member has a unique experience and perhaps even finds meaning in lines that kept us guessing to the very end.

We only started to put the show on its feet in the last week of the rehearsal process. Rehearsing without an audience made things difficult, because the audience really is part of this show. The play has a lot of room for potential audience interaction, and during Friday night's show, people did decide to participate, which kept things lively. The rehearsal process was mostly spent memorizing and understanding the text, because we didn't know how the show would actually go until I performed it with a full classroom, so to speak. Every show is different because every audience is different, and that keeps things exciting for me.

How does being the only person on stage affect your approach to the role?

Being the only person on stage is terrifying. There is no one to cue me, no one to help me out if I fumble a line. I actually typed up an outline of each act (or "class") and put the sheets of paper on my desk, just in case I freeze. I haven't used it at all, though. I've found that I have become so invested in the character and I know the script so intimately, that I can talk my way around any line drop. It's funny because I drop different lines during every show, which makes each show unique in a way that definitely wasn't intended.

Being alone on stage is also an amazing experience. Everyone's attention is constantly on me, which gives me a real sense of power. That sense of control and power is so important to Miss Margarida, so it helps me to delve even deeper into her character.

Who do you think learns more during the show: the audience or Miss Margarida?

I think that the audience members learn a lot about themselves during the show. Or at least I learn a lot about them. It is so amazing to look into the eyes of a friend or a family member in the audience and see such an extreme amount of fear and discomfort. The classroom setting really changes people, and I think that it causes the audience to become more aware. Usually when you're watching a performance, you zone out, perhaps your mouth hangs open, because you are the viewer and nobody has a spotlight fixated on you. In Miss Margarida's Way, everyone is on stage. I walk by every audience member and have the chance to examine each one of them.

I don't think that Miss Margarida learns during the show. Miss Margarida changes, but she does not learn. After her "rebirth" at the end of the show, she delivers her final monologue as a completely different woman. She refers to herself as Miss Margarida, but she is no longer the Miss Margarida that everyone had experienced throughout the rest of the show. Perhaps it is because the final bell has rung and she is no longer a teacher, she no longer has a name, so she is no longer anything at all. But of course, as Miss Margarida says in the first class, "Evolution is nothing at all. Nothing changes. Everything is always the same crap." I think, in a way, she is talking about herself. Miss Margarida never learns, Miss Margarida never changes. The changed woman we see at the end of the show is no longer Miss Margarida.

[Caption: Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15 plays Miss Margarida]