Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Judith-Marie Bergan has delighted audiences with her stunning portrayals of legendary characters in her 11 seasons with the festival. We sat down to chat over coffee one afternoon. This is the second column of a two-part interview. The first was published on Sept. 26.
EH: How did you become an actress?
JMB: When I was in grade school, I had a lisp and I was very shy. My mom took me to a speech therapist who said, “You know, it’s really basically shyness with Judith; maybe you should enter her into a dramatics class.” I happened to be going to a school with a huge drama department. I just took to it. I was a drama student in high school. I majored in drama in college. I transferred to Goodman Theatre in Chicago for the rest of my degree. It’s just something I always wanted to do.
What I felt was whereas I was shy in life, on stage I could be anything. I still feel that. I’m not as shy as I was, but I still feel that I would rather go out and do a show than speak in public. There are a lot of things that you can do that you can’t do in real life. That’s kind of the appeal.
EH: This season I saw you portray the hilarious Manager of the Come On Inn in “The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa.”
JMB: I just had to learn an Iowa accent, which is very different than any other accent I’ve ever done. It’s very bright. You begin to understand why they’re all so cheerful, at least in this play, because that is part of how they talk, whereas an Oklahoma accent is straightforward and blunt. I listen to a lot of those dialects on YouTube. Michele Bachmann is a person to listen to. She’s got a fairly strong accent. In my opinion, listen for the accent. Don’t listen to her words.
EH: I’m intrigued by your portrayal of Violet in “August, Osage County.”
JMB: It’s just devastating for a woman like that to go to waste. There are a lot of people who actually told me, ‘You’re like my mother; you’re like my aunt,’ and they told me how just seeing the situation objectively, they could understand a little better what that’s all about. It is difficult any time you see really hard stuff on stage. When you’re in that family dynamic, you don’t understand it. It’s so destructive. If there is any reason to do a play that is that painful with a woman that’s that destructive, it’s for that kind of understanding of the really complicated family dynamics. The family is still the core. It’s from whence you got everything. And most likely you’ll return in some way. It’s impactful on our lives.
It’s interesting to play these very strong female roles. It’s fascinating how different they are. One role I would like to do someday is Mary Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” That is much darker. We are talking also about a generation of lost women who couldn’t vote, who were still so subject to men. That was not a good time for women. You understand, especially in that time, how people found a way to deal with life that was not so healthy. We know so much more today, and even now it’s still happening. I think about it because things are becoming very similar now in politics. We don’t want to go back there.