Skip to comments.Shakespeare Lady (Schizophrenia, Addiction Reduce Once-Promising Actress/Writer To Street Theater)
Posted on 09/11/2005 10:33:15 PM PDT by nickcarraway
NEW HAVEN - Many people once gladly paid to see her grace the stage of "The Rep," Yale's famed Repertory Theater. But for the last six years, Margaret Holloway has had a different sort of audience.
Often found on the steps of Willoughby's Coffee House in the downtown arts district, her arena of choice, Holloway seems to be known to nearly everyone.
They like her act. The 53-year-old "Shakespeare Lady" does an instant monologue for instant change, from Hamlet to Chaucer. Her favorite is seven lines of Medea's speech to Jason in Euripides' classic story of a woman betrayed.
"I like the Robinson Jeffers version," she says, rubbing her tongue against the roof of her mouth before reciting the American playwright's adaptation:
"What! feeble night-bird overcome by misfortunes beats at my door!? Can this be that great adventurer, the famous lord of the seas and delight of women, the heir of rich Corinth - this crying drunkard on the dark doorstep? - Yet you've not had enough! You have come to drink the last bitter drops. I'll pour them for you."
The irony is lost on her.
While Holloway says she's still popular - "People tell me all the time I'm their favorite actress" - she's more of a novelty, and to some an increasingly frustrating one.
To certain bartenders of the Irish pub Anna Liffey's, Holloway's performances - and her occasionally aggressive requests for the price of admission - are hurting their business.
Some residents of the new condominiums surrounding New Haven Green move to the other side of the street when they see Holloway approaching.
And to former friends and colleagues from the Yale Drama School, where she earned her master of fine arts in 1980, the Shakespeare Lady is a painful reminder that even those with a lot of promise can fail.
Hers is a tragedy of theatrical proportions, propelled by schizophrenia and drug addiction.
Still, earlier this year, there was new hope for recovery. After Holloway was jailed in late 2004 for the fourth time in a year on offenses ranging from disturbing the peace to trespassing, the community rallied around her, vowing to help her get back on her feet.
In June, the state dropped charges against Holloway on the condition that she stay on her medicine for schizophrenia, stay off illegal drugs and stay out of local businesses. Her court-appointed conservator, local attorney Arnold Amore, submitted her application to reside in public housing, which also hinges on her good behavior.
But Holloway keeps leaving the script. On a recent Tuesday night, a rail-thin Holloway, clad in an orange T-shirt, jeans and a tattered black blazer, stood on Church Street, keeping one eye out for possible contributors and the other (bloody and swollen from a run-in with a neighbor) watching for police determined to clear the street of panhandlers.
Seeing one presumed fan, then another, she called to them by name and waved, talking of her injury and of her possible eviction from the rooming house in which she lives, a residence rife with housing code violations.
The conversations end with a plea for money.
"Her struggles sort of bear out all of ours. She is a product of her best talents and shameful weaknesses," said Rosemarie Paine, a local lawyer who sees Holloway nearly every day. "She's playing them out in front of all of us."
Trouble With The Law
Paine, who considers herself a friend of Holloway's, got to know her in 2000 at Willoughby's, where she placed change in her calloused hand because a monologue lifted her mood. She represented her in 2002, when Holloway started raising the ire of many businesses and the police. In November 2002, Holloway was arrested for blocking the entrance to the Gourmet Heaven store. More arrests followed. Paine can't remember how many times she has stood in a courtroom, urging the dismissal of charges against Holloway.
Law-enforcement records dating from early 2004 chart the escalating problems.
In February 2004, police arrested and jailed Holloway for breach of peace after another dispute with the manager of Gourmet Heaven. Four months later, disorderly conduct was the charge when a police officer on foot patrol noticed her engaging in loud "sociopolitical banter with Anna Liffey's patrons" before asking them for money. July brought a confrontation with Anna Liffey's owner, Patrick Mansfield, and Holloway's arrest. In August, Holloway was arrested after panhandling congregants during a Mass at St. Mary's Church. The report listed her at 90 pounds, down from 125 in February.
"People were very angry with us, but we were looking for an intervention," said Brother Gerard Thayer of the arrest.
On Oct. 1 a New Haven judge ordered that she be tested at Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown, where she was judged competent for trial. On Dec. 20, Paine could not persuade the judge that Holloway could stop smoking crack and begging aggressively. The attorney saw her client off to jail, where she remained for three months.
"Margaret can inspire various opinions by different people, and even by the same person," Paine said. "They love her, but they're angry with her because she's not helping herself."
Though many of the details of Holloway's life have been lost to her illness, people in the community have managed to put together a brief biography. And despite Holloway's insistence that her family no longer cares for her, every other month or so, Paine says she receives a phone call from Holloway's mother asking for news.
Born to a minister and his homemaker wife in Georgia on Sept. 7, 1951, Holloway came to Yale in 1974 after graduating from Vermont's Bennington College with a bachelor's degree in theater. She enrolled at the drama school in its heyday, when Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Henry Winkler were still stumbling over their lines and honing their skills.
Shortly after arriving, however, Holloway dropped out of Yale, claiming racism. She returned to Bennington to pursue a master's degree in directing and dramatic literature, but after two years there, she returned to Yale in 1977.
Streep, Weaver and Christopher Walken, whom Holloway insists she knew during her Yale days, declined comment through their publicists.
By the time Holloway finished Yale in 1980, erratic thoughts and behavior associated with the onset of schizophrenia were being noticed by Yale Drama School administrators, especially after Holloway handed in her master's thesis. Titled "God's Smoke: A Thesis Production," Holloway's thesis describes her theories on the use of the "theater of hunger" in which "schizophrenia is a means of survival."
The 11-page document - a quarter of the usual thesis length - mentions schizophrenia as a necessary element of the "theater of hunger" several times.
"Many artists have aspired to a theater of hunger," Holloway wrote. "Many were imprisoned, driven insane, etc. These artists know that there is no separation between the quest toward a theater of hunger and a quest toward a way of life."
Holloway's condition would not be widely known for several more years, and according to Yale administrators, they tried many times to help her. Her teachers and deans set up directing and acting auditions in local theater, a source at Yale says, but she never showed. Teaching appointments were arranged; those didn't work out either. Finally, the drama school tried to give her some administrative duties, including phone-bank fundraising. The Shakespeare Lady used the opportunity to solicit money for her own benefit, administrators said.
Holloway disputes all of this. She claims the school did nothing after she graduated, even when she had a "psychotic break" common with schizophrenia.
In a 15-minute documentary about her life, "God Didn't Give Me a Week's Notice," produced by a fellow Bennington graduate, Holloway describes "tactile demons," the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia - delusions, hallucinations, a loss of touch with reality. For a good part of the 1980s, Holloway bounced from place to place, writing plays and trying to live her acting dream. Of four plays she authored, only one remains in the Yale Drama Library: 1985's "A Rock Music Fantasy of Philae."
"I was delusional when I wrote it," she says. "I tried to get [the late actor] Bob Breen to produce it, but he said he didn't understand it; it left him bewildered."
In the late 1990s, Holloway resurfaced in New Haven and took up residence at 73 Whitney Ave., after a year in a mental institution, she said. Holloway has been a fixture on Church Street ever since.
Future Looks Grim
"Margaret is like many people with a terrible illness and an addictive illness. Despite her best intentions to come to terms with it, sometimes it's impossible," said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who sees Holloway most mornings outside of Clark's Dairy Restaurant. "I'd like to see Margaret healthy and clean."
Mental health experts agree that's a hard road. Even if Holloway moved into public housing and managed some personal and financial care, she would need regular supervision to make sure she takes her medication. New, more expensive "atypical antipsychotics," instead of conventional medication (like the Haldol she takes weekly), have proved effective against a broader range of symptoms, including her inability to care for herself.Recently, a judge suggested an assisted-living facility, Holloway said, but she bristled at the idea of losing her independence.
A joke or a kind word still brings a gleaming smile and a hearty laugh, and the Shakespeare Lady remains committed to the theater of the street.
"I'm not ashamed; I don't have unfortunate shame because I know I can't do any better," she said. "I guess I have it better than most. I don't have any physical pain. I'm not blind or crippled. I haven't had a cold since 1978. But my schizophrenia is so bad.
"I guess there's suffering for everyone."
If you'd like on the Shakespeare ping list, let me know.
What is life, but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Criminal Number 18F
"Pity is the virtue of the law, and none but tyrants use it cruelly."
QUIT SMOKING CRACK.
To crack or not to crack?
"I know I can't do any better," she said.
But of course she can if she chooses to do so.
So you find it strange that a homeless person stricken with schizophrenia would seek to medicate herself? What an insular world some of us live in...
I'm sure schizophrenia doesn't alter ones decision making to do better...
2) Have you nothing better to do than browse through two year old threads and defend crack addicts??
Margaret is not a drug addict. She is a schizphrenic who was lost in the system. Your compassionate comment prompted me to post that she is now doing well since the system is no longer failing her. She is the sweetest person and most intelligent person I know.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.