Theatre creator Margo MacDonald came out of the closet with the help of 1930s actress Eva Le Gallienne.
A New York City theatre diva, Le Gallienne was outed by the media at the height of her career when her lover, Josephine Hutchinson, divorced her husband to be with Le Gallienne. As if the difficulties surrounding her sexuality weren’t enough, Le Gallienne was soon disfigured and nearly killed in a gas explosion. “It kind of destroyed her,” MacDonald says. “She’d always had a bit of a problem with alcohol, but after that she became a volatile alcoholic. She went back to the stage, but it was very difficult for her.”
When MacDonald first heard of Le Gallienne, she became fascinated by the actress’s personal struggle and lasting influence on the theatre scene, as founder of the Civic Repertory Theatre. Le Gallienne’s tale was also particularly relevant to MacDonald’s own life. “I found her story when I was just starting to come out to myself. In going through the journey of figuring out who I was, coming out, and trying to figure out what that would mean for my theatre career, I found that part of Eva’s story inspiring,” she says.
Dismayed that hardly anyone knows Le Gallienne’s story, MacDonald decided to write a play based on it to give others “a chance to discover who she was, and so that she’s not forgotten.” When the play, called Shadows, had its successful first production at the 2010 Ottawa Fringe Festival, it was not only Le Gallienne’s resurgence, but MacDonald’s as well. “For anyone who had eyes to see, that production was my coming-out party,” MacDonald says.
Shadows made its way to Toronto in autumn of 2013, with a staged reading at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The first full production outside Ottawa will soon be mounted at Videofag in Kensington Market.