Queen Marie

Cast: 5f, 3m, 1child (with doubling), musician(s), 35+ parts  (Ideal for a large cast)

Marie Dressler (Shelley Simester) in a bawdy New York music hall

Marie Dressler describes herself as an oversized ugly duckling, but after leaving home at 14 to join a touring theatre troupe, she turns these drawbacks into drawing cards, and develops a unique style of self-deprecating, physical, masculine comedy.  By the turn of the 20th century she’s conquered Broadway and is hailed as the best low comedienne in America.  But Marie is often her own worst enemy.  Her hatred of bullies, spendthrift ways, and occasional lack of good judgement, impact her life and career.  At the end of the Great War theatrical tastes change, a long-term, tumultuous relationship ends, and her career is mired in the doldrums.

“Shelley Simester….takes charge with perfect pitch, challenging every other actor to match her intensity.” Peterborough Examiner

Marie’s film debut with Charlie Chaplin (Robert Winslow)

Marie is unlucky in love, but she is blessed with her women friends.  One of them, Frances Marion, has turned from journalism to screenwriting and is now an in-house writer at MGM.  She writes a silent script with her depressed, penniless friend in mind, and convinces her boss, Irving Thalberg, to let Marie have a lead role.  The path to success in Hollywood isn’t smooth, but Marie is re-energized by the challenges of film, and a close friendship with a younger actress.  With the onset of the talkies, she adapts her acting style and her career takes off.  Ironically just as her health begins to fail, she becomes a huge star in depression-ravaged America, a star from whom Louis B. Mayer is determined to wring the last dollar.

Early days on the road. Marie (Shelley Simester) with her boss Mr. Nevada (Rebekah Fallaise) and members of the company

“Playwright Shirley Barrie has created a play that is bursting with life….(she) has created a larger than life character whose self-deprecating humour was her stock in trade.” Paula Citron, Arts Reviewer

Marie Dressler became a success in spite of conventional expectations, she was fearless in taking on injustice, she could re-invent herself and rise to new heights in her late 50’s, and she inspired lifelong loyalty in many friends.   Queen Marie celebrates the performer while revealing the personal joys and pain that lie beneath the performance.

Marie’s Academy Award with her maid, Mamie (Sedina Fiati), Screenwriter Frances Marion (Alison J. Palmer) and Louis B. Mayer (Jeff Schissler)

Premiere at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ontario, Jul 3 – Aug 4, 2012.  Director:  Kim Blackwell  Designer:  Julia Tribe  Music:  Justin Hiscox

“…She has captured the life, times and personality of Marie Dressler.” Lynn Slotkin, The Passionate Playgoer


Marie auditions for Old Marthy in Anna Christie. Claire Dubrey (Allie Dunbar) standing in for Greta Garbo is served a drink by a barkeep (Jeff Schissler)

On Broadway: The Pickle King (Allie Dunbar) and his daughter Philoepena (Shelley Simester)

Photos by Wayne Eardley

Sample Pages

Back to Plays for Adults