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Actor's Actor: Josephine Hogan

Josephine Hogan has been a star on the Buffalo theater scene since she first arrived from Dublin over 20 years ago, as a co-founder of the Irish Classical Theatre Company. She first sent shivers through the roster of Buffalo leading ladies for landing the role of Desdemona in Othello at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. A rapid and continuous roster of great roles followed. The parts she has played read like a list of highlights of great roles from the Irish, British, and American repertoire. She has among the highest batting averages of any artist at the Artie Awards, and her nominated roles provide a glimpse at the breadth of her talent; she’s been nominated for Shirley Valentine, Dancing at Lughnasa, John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and for deploying her uncanny resemblance to Vivien Leigh in Vivien. She scored Artie wins as Juno in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, as the title character in Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney, for George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession—and just for good measure, for her direction of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance.

Now, Hogan is tackling one of the most delicious characters of the past fifty years, Eleanor of Aquitaine in James Goldman’s 1966 historical drama The Lion in Winter. As the play begins, it is Christmas 1183 and Eleanor has been imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II for about ten years. Despite their estrangement, she still loves him—and hates him—and competes with him. Vincent O’Neill plays Henry. Eleanor has contempt for her disappointing children, but feels protective of them, and she matches wits with everyone in sight. Rosemary Harris originated the role; Katharine Hepburn played it on the screen. Expect Josephine Hogan to put her own personal stamp on this great lady.

I would imagine that Eleanor is a dream role. Is it turning out that way? What are the pleasures and the challenges of playing this woman?

I love a challenge and Eleanor is an enormous one. I find the prospect of playing her extremely daunting. An extraordinary and powerful woman, married to two kings with whom she had 10 children! She was extremely well educated and was a patron for poets and writers. She accompanied Louis VII on the second crusade and served as regent when her son Richard the Lionheart joined the third crusade. She is such a complicated character and I’m trying to find all the elements and nuances in the script. It’s an absolute pleasure to work with this terrific cast and it’s a wonderful thing to look forward to going to work every day.

You and Vincent have a long history together professionally and personally. You raised a family together, you often act together, and audiences certainly like to see you together. How does this long history impact your working relationship on the stage? It must have both advantages and liabilities? And how do you think HE would answer that question?

I think that I can speak for Vincent as well when I say this. We know each other so well and we have a great rapport onstage. When you know somebody that well you can anticipate what they are going to do next. You feel confident knowing they will catch you if you fall (so to speak). However, we also find that we are more demanding of each other.

As resident actor with ICTC who is often enlisted to play a variety of roles—sometimes you are typecast; sometimes it’s a stretch. I would imagine that this is both a blessing and a curse. Could you comment on that? When do you think you have been most successfully cast?

It’s very hard for me to say when I have been most successfully cast because I’m just a cog in the wheel. I cannot see my own performance from the outside. I could mention a few that I loved playing such as Kitty Warren in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Shirley Valentine and definitely Juno but I’m not sure if that’s the same thing.

How have the roles you get changed over the years, and have you enjoyed that evolution?

I love acting although it can be a bit terrifying at times and I’ve no qualms about getting older. I don’t work as often as I used to because there are fewer roles for me. But I enjoy working when I can.

Was Lion in Winter chosen for you?

Not that I’m aware of. I wasn’t involved in the discussions. I was quite surprised when I was asked to do it.

You won an Artie for your direction of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance. Can you comment on that experience? Good directors in this town are few, but you seemed to have a very steady hand on a very tricky piece.

When Irish Classical decided to include this play in the season I was both stunned and delighted to be asked to direct it. I love all things Wilde. He has been a favorite of mine since I was 18 years old and bought his complete works as a gift to myself for Christmas—I still have the now, old yellow paged tattered book from all those years ago. The central story is basically about illegitimacy and the crushing treatment of women by society, who have children out of wedlock, regardless of the circumstances. During this period unwed mothers and their infants were seen as an affront to morality. They were spurned and ostracized both by the public relief and charitable institutions. Most orphanages would not accept illegitimate children for fear they would contaminate the minds and morals of legitimate children in their care. Many women driven by penury turned their children over to baby farmers for a fee, knowing they would never see them alive again. The play explores the duplicitous, darker side of Victorian society. I think it is a very ambitious play with an exterior of cleverness and wit but underneath there is a very serious edge. The piece is multi-layered and quite complex. I think it’s a tricky play because of its structure. The first part appears to be all banter with Oscar’s greatest hits in terms of quotations. But sometimes the way in which it is performed belies the substance of what the characters are actually saying. The second half is more passionate and intense. I believe the answer is in creating a balance in the playing of it. I was blessed with a terrific cast and design team and everyone worked extremely hard to ensure the success of the production.

It seems you were rehearsing two shows simultaneously—Alan Ayckbourn’s Snake in the Grass, which you directed for Red Thread Theatre, and Lion in Winter. How did you accomplish that? Prayers to Saint Martin de Porres?

Apart from the prayers to dear Saint Martin (whose miracles included bilocation) and a few to Saint Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes) we worked mostly afternoons, Equity days off and evenings at the weekend for Red Thread Theatre’s Snake in the Grass. Eileen Dugan co-directed it with me. For Irish Classical Theatre Company’s Lion in Winter we worked evenings and weekend days. So, as they say in Ireland, I’ve been so busy I’ve been meeting myself coming around corners!

Josephine Hogan can be seen at the Andrews Theatre, channeling the wit, wisdom, passion, and treachery of Eleanor of Aquitaine in James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter through February 8th; call 716-853-ICTC. Her delightful Red Thread Theatre production of Alan Ayckbourn’s mind-messing thriller, Snake in the Grass can be seen in the Marie Maday Theatre in Lyon’s Hall at Canisius College through February 1st; call 716-445-4653.