Nicola Lipman has been working in theatre for more than five decades. You name it, she’s likely done it, but she’s never really played a man—until now.
Classic Chic, the all-women Vancouver theatre company behind the upcoming production of David Mann’s Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, approached Lipman with the script. It’s a riff that’s right there in the tag line of the show: what if Shakespeare had written The Godfather? The Elizabethan framework, rich with “wherefores” and period-speak, is a winking twist on the classic bloody tale of a Mafia crime family—a tool with which to reexamine novelist Mario Puzo’s story of betrayal, power, violence, and love, which has so often been called “Shakespearean” in its tragedy.
After reading the script, Lipman says, she emailed Classic Chic: “ ‘It’s a very interesting play, but there’s no part for me. What would I play?’ The company wrote back, ‘Well, you could play Vito [Corleone].’
“I was like, ‘What?!’ ” Lipman tells the Straight, laughing over the phone at the memory. “I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve never played a man before.’ Well, I’ve played a man in Angels in America that I did years ago, where one actor plays four different roles and one of those roles is a man. This is playing a man all the way through. But life is too short to not attempt it, not take on this kind of a challenge and not see it as an opportunity to work in a completely different way.”
A role like Vito Corleone simply doesn’t exist for most women in the theatre. He’s complicated and complex, violent and powerful and ruthless, but also protective and loving. Lipman says the experience, so far, has been both frightening and thrilling. Inhabiting Vito, creating a space inside the pinnacle of the patriarchal structure of the Corleones, has been an eye-opening experience.
“One doesn’t want to admit that one has, somewhere within themselves, the ability to hate or to kill or to destroy to that degree,” Lipman says, referring to the vengeance that consumes the Corleones and leads to such a high body count. At its most basic level, Lipman says, this play has a relatable thread, which is why The Godfather is such a classic.
“We all, most people anyway, have a sense of family and family loyalties and family responsibilities,” Lipman continues. “That feeling that you’d do anything for family. If I have a child and my child murders somebody, I’m on my child’s side, I don’t care. I think that’s how most people feel. That’s, ultimately, what this play is about, and I think that’s why people relate to this story. Everybody understands that, even if they don’t believe in it, even if they don’t get along with their family. That in itself is because they have a family, right? That’s what they’re all fucked up about, because they can’t get along together. So it’s about loyalty and love and family, above all—and betrayal.”
Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather runs from Friday (February 3) to February 25 at Pacific Theatre.