By the time she won an Obie last year for “Sustained Excellence of Performance,” Quincy Tyler Bernstine had spent more than a decade as one of the go-to actresses for playwrights (especially women playwrights) looking to mount an innovative new play Off-Broadway.
If the public doesn’t know her as well as it should, and she thinks of herself as an ensemble player, critics (including this one) have come to expect excellence in every production — the kind of theater artist whose commitment and talent not only help bring a play to life, but also argue for the value of original, live, affordable theater.
Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, 2009
Bernstine gave a devastating portrayal of a farm wife and mother kidnapped by soldiers during the civil war in the Congo and used as a sexual slave. Bernstine drove home both the horror and the resilience of her character Salima, recalling the beauty of her old farm.
(Introduction by the playwright.)
In The Next Room, by Sarah Ruhl, 2009
Her only Broadway role as of yet, Bernstine portrays a young mother in the 19th century who just lost her youngest child and volunteers to be a wet nurse for a white couple.
The play riffs on how a future, post-apocalyptic, neo-primitive society would re-imagine its destroyed culture, especially its popular touchstones, most prominently episodes of The Simpsons. Bernstine memorably impersonated Bart Simpson
Neva by Guillermo Calderón, 2013
Bernstine portrayed a Russian actress named Masha in 1905 who is rehearsing “The Cherry Orchard” with Chekhov’s widow Olga. The play concludes with a long difficult rant of a monologue that she pulled off memorably.
We first see Bernstine’s character, a nun named Shelley, apparently praying to a microwave oven. She actually is just using the oven’s timer. “I’ve been forcing myself to pray for one minute. I’m trying to work up to two, and eventually five.” She does not wear a habit; her choice of vocation was in part an act of adolescent rebellion, and it is now being tested
working in a church soup kitchen in the Bronx
— NYT Theater (@nytimestheater) November 24, 2014
Quincy Tyler Bernstine’s character has almost no lines of dialogue in this play, but more than almost anybody else. She plays Judy, one of the six people who are attending a silent retreat , and, though there is almost no dialogue, she makes clear the tension she is having with her spouse Joan (portrayed by Marcia DeBonis)
Bernstine again portrays an actress — two, actually. The first is the leading lady of a traveling troupe in the 14th century, during the Plague years. The arrival of a new company member so turns her world upside that she goes in search of answers that can only be found off-script. And then Bernstine portrays herself (as scripted by the playwright), talking about the challenges of performing – how she once made playing bit parts bearable by imagining she was in charge.
Rooftop is motivated to receive absolution because he expects to run into his ex-wife Inez, who has remained in the neighborhood, and whom he wronged in sundry ways.
Bernstine’s plays Inez, the ex-wife of a character named Rooftop who wronged her. She wears a sexy red dress and assumes a take-no-shit manner. But if you watched her face in certain scenes, there was an unmistakeable mixture of anger and hurt and love — achieving an unusual balance between humor and pathos.
Bernstine portrayed both the pioneering real-life 19th century nurse at the center of the play, and several 21st century caretakers, with shades of differences but always keeping a core for all of them that lets us know not just how complicated and heroic Mary Seacole was, but how much she shares with every Mary who has followed.