‘Pinay Power’ drives Washington staging of ‘Nell Gwynn’
WASHINGTON, DC — Regina Aquino Smith is playing two women with access to a man in authority in the comedy “Nell Gwynn.”
In this play—based on true historical figures—set in mid-1600s England, the title character becomes King Charles II’s latest mistress. Gywnn then quickly becomes the enemy of the chief minister and the king’s other mistresses Lady Barbara Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle, both of whom are brought to life onstage by Aquino Smith.
“They are very ambitious, cunning women and truly delightful to play,” she says.
Staged by the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Folger Theatre, the play won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in London.
“This play has got a lot of heart and presents formidable women. There is another Pinay in the show, Caitlin Cisco. She’s a recording artist based in New York. She plays Rose Gwynn, Nell’s clever and tough-loving sister. There’s quite a bit of Pinay power in our production.”
Born to Filipino parents in the DC area and raised in Clinton, Maryland, Aquino Smith speaks fondly of her maternal grandparents.
“My Nana and Nunu Aquino were the people I admire most in my life, along with my mother, and their love and support of my aspirations in the performing arts fuel me to this day. I keep pictures of them at my [backstage] station in every show I do and attribute all my successes to the three of them.”
Her credits include “Vietgone,” “Red Light Winter,” “Dog Sees God” “Polaroid Stories” for Studio Theatre; “The Arsonists” for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; “The Events” and “brownsville song (b-side for tray)” for Theater Alliance; among others.
Later this year, she will be in “Describe the Night” at Woolly Mammoth and “Tiger Style!” at Olney Theatre Center.
When it comes to theater, Aquino Smith channels ambition and commitment to her craft and to her community.
She works with Not In Our House DC, an organization that supports marginalized artists and protects artists from toxic and abusive environments.
“One of the goals is to ensure that voices of minorities are represented in all areas of theater-making, from actors to directors, designers to playwrights, etc.”
She is also affiliated with Asian American Pacific Islander Artist Coalition DC, a collective that promotes AAPI culture and representation in theater.
“Collaboration within our community is imperative and I’m ecstatic that it is thriving.”
She puts herself squarely in the middle of the process.
“I hold myself accountable for helping diversify the stories being told and pushing for more accurate representation of the world in which we live. Hopefully, the Filipino American community will rise to support it.”
“My biggest goal is to engage the Fil-Am community and get them to come to the theater. There is a gigantic community here in Maryland and Virginia.”
She acknowledges the challenges both onstage and off.
“Unfortunately, I rarely see them in the audiences. But if our stories aren’t being told on stage, why would they come? Also, lots of Fil-Am performers from here leave town for work.”
She believes the solution is to stay put. “I refuse to leave. This is my community and I’m going to do my best to help it change. So I’m staying in DC and hoping other Fil-Am performers will try to build careers here, too.”
One of her personal goals is to get Filipino American and Filipino playwrights produced in DC. “Not just Filipino actors playing white or other Asian roles. We should get a chance to tell our own stories.”
“I have been reading as many Pinoy playwrights as possible in the hopes of finding something suitable for a DC production. I also want to reach out to playwrights in the Philippines.
“I’m dying to find a Filipino American play that the huge Fil-Am community here would enjoy seeing. If anyone has any plays they’d like to send my way, I’m all ears!”
Aquino Smith points out that the DC area is “coming around to producing shows that reflect diversity.” Therefore, it seems the right time to “speak out more actively now to help encourage this development.”
“Nell Gwynn” runs until March 10 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St., Washington, DC. Visit Folger.edu/Folger-Theatre