Molly Cahill Govern was a 20-year-old theater major studying at the London Dramatic Academy when she was tasked with performing a monologue by Lady Anne from “Richard III.”
“I liked it, but I was struggling because I couldn’t connect with her,” Govern recalls. “The teacher finally said to me, ‘Stop trying so hard. They’re just people, they’re being in the moment. Just think about the human aspects. Don’t stress because it’s Shakespeare.’”
Never mind that Shakespeare is the most revered playwright in all of history, his language admired the world over. Never mind that his characters are among the most famous in all of literature. Never mind that the greatest actors of our time were trained as Shakespeareans. No pressure whatsoever…
“So I tried,” Govern says. “And it worked. It really worked. I thought, Yeah, he’s right. It’s so powerful if you just let it happen. It really does become profound.”
This month Govern plays Paulina in “The Winter’s Tale” during the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, which Govern founded nine years ago.
The play tells the story of King Leontes of Sicilia, his wife, Hermione, and their family. When Leontes suspects Queen Hermione of having an affair with his friend King Polixenes of Bohemia, he puts her on trial. Paulina defends Hermione’s virtue, to no avail. The queen goes into exile and her newborn daughter is abandoned in Bohemia. Leontes soon has a change of heart, but after a typically Shakespearean communication breakdown and plenty of lamentation, all seems lost for him until, many years later, the supposedly dead queen is resurrected, her daughter is reunited with her family and the kings are reconciled.
Govern has acted in or directed every one of the eight DSF plays so far. She chose her role for this year for many reasons. Chief among them, “Paulina is a really interesting woman,” Govern says. “She’s trapped in a man’s world. She’s noble, but not royal. Yet she stands up for the queen when no one else will. She could have been killed for that.
“You can see just how much Shakespeare loves women in these characters. They’re full of so much heart. I hope that I’ve been that as well, because I want to bring that to the table.”
As many actors do, Govern started performing as a child. What was merely fun became a serious pursuit in high school at Archmere Academy. “I just never got rid of the bug,” she says, so it was off to Northwestern University, where she earned a bachelor’s in theater and English, then to Catholic University for an MFA in acting.
Govern was traveling all over to audition for Shakespeare festivals when, somewhat dismayed that there was none at home in Delaware, she decided to start one. That was March 2003. By the following August, Delaware Shakespeare Festival debuted at Archmere. Though now busy with other acting projects and teaching, Govern still serves as DSF’s artistic director.
On the verge of the festival’s 10th anniversary, Govern was looking for a special play, a link between the high drama of last year’s “Macbeth” and the antic comedy of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” which will be performed next year in commemoration of its production as the festival’s first play. “The Winter’s Tale,” with its shift from courtroom drama to pastoral comedy to forgiveness play, “is a great bridge,” Govern says.
“It’s not produced much,” she adds. “But this is a really exciting play. There’s something for everyone.”