Naomi Jacobson is currently playing the role of Queen Margaret in Richard III at Folger Theatre where she has also performed in The Winter’s Tale and Henry VIII. Area credits include Mary T & Lizzy K and A View From The Bridge at Arena Stage, The Guardsman at Kennedy Center, Measure for Measure, Richard II, Henry V, and Julius Caesar at Shakespeare Theatre Company. She also performed in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, The Unmentionables and Vigils at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Member (company member) and God Of Carnage at Signature Theatre. Other area and regioanl credits include productions at Ford’s Theatre, Round House Theatre, Wolf Trap Opera, Olney Theatre, Center Stage, Goodman Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory, Delaware Theatre Company, and Berkshire Theatre Festival. Off Broadway Naomi was seen in Scenes From An Execution at Atlantic Theater Company. Her voice has been heard on NPR, PBS, Discovery Channel and Smithsonian and Naomi has been seen on film in Her Father’s Eyes and I Fall To Pieces and on TV in Homicide. Her awards include a Lunt Fontanne Fellowship (w/ Lynn Redgrave), two Helen Hayes Awards twelve Helen Hayes Nominations and a DC Commission Individual Artist Grant. I have seen Naomi in many things and am always impressed by her performances. Read on to see how Naomi stepped into a lead role late in the game while giving a flawless performance.
What was your first professional performing job in the DC area?
I was cast in a production about Louisa May Alcott and her family that Horizon’s Theatre was going to do, but it got canceled. I was already Equity when I came to town, so I’d get a lot of call backs, but no one would take a chance on me, no one had seen me in a production. I couldn’t work at Source Theatre or any of the other non-union houses where most actors got known. So my first job in DC was cast by a Chicago director who didn’t know anyone in town, and that was Shear Madness.
Can you please tell us about your character in Richard III and what makes this production unique from other stagings?
I’ve seen more than one production where Margaret is cut, so first and foremost, the fact that she is actually in the play is somewhat unique. Robert Richmond, the director, wanted to explore the nature of superstition, religious beliefs in God and Hell, and the power of curses. So we started with the premise that when Margaret curses, the world shifts, energy changes, it’s real. And that gave me a lot of leeway to explore not only the grief and pain that has driven her over the edge but also her power. That power is manifested and supported by technical effects. The feud between Margaret and Richard has history and she is prophetic is her pronouncements. She calls out his treachery from the start, she is ignored but eventually one cannot dismiss her. Everything she says comes true. The play becomes lopsided if Richard doesn’t have that very vocal adversary in place, speaking truth.
You had to step into the lead role of Mary Todd Lincoln in Arena Stage’s production of Mary T. and Lizzie K. late in the rehearsal process. Can you please talk about the experience of joining a show that was already in rehearsal?
I am good friends with the actress I replaced. My first step was to get her blessing. With only two weeks to perform a huge role in a new play in development, I knew I’d have to trust my experience and technique. Tazewell Thompson, the director, never rushed me, we explored the play with joy, specificity, and a heartfelt respect for the people we were playing. I allowed myself to go further faster in emotional moments, and didn’t stop to question my choices. That saved time! The other cast members were so generous and lovely. And Taz guided me with wisdom every step of the way. It was extremely challenging and I was proud of what we created.
Why do you think people still enjoy seeing Shakespeare performed after hundreds of years?
The language is rich, poetic and delicious to listen to, while challenging. The situations reveal human nature in a way that illuminates the human condition. The writer is fearless and honest about how humans think and feel, the darker sides of our nature, and the possibility of redemption at every turn. We still lean toward complex ideas about complicated people. Shakespeare is not for the faint of heart.
Where can we see you next perform?
The next thing I know about is Awake and Sing at Olney Theatre in the fall. But I’m always up for a surprise.