The many Shakespearean roles of Irish immigrant Ada Rehan

This costume was worn by Irish American actress Ada Rehan (1857-1916) for an 1893 production of Twelfth Night in New York, with Rehan in the role of Viola. (The costume is for Viola’s disguise as Cesario, a male servant). A critic called it “one of the best Shakespearean interpretations of the time.”

Born Ada Crehan in Limerick, Ireland, Ada Rehan arrived in Brooklyn with her family at age five. Her big break came in the late 1870s, when theater manager Augustin Daly hired her for his New York company. Rehan’s sweet and funny stage presence served her well in a vast number of parts over the next two decades.

In addition to many modern roles, she played such Shakespeare heroines as Rosalind (As You Like It), Katherine (The Taming of the Shrew), and Portia (The Merchant of Venice), always working under Daly’s famously detailed direction. After his death in 1899, she returned only once to the stage, for a brief tour in 1904–05.

 

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