BARBARA MARCH OF THE HOUSE OF DURAS:
by Michelle Erica Green
She was Lursa, the woman of whom Klingon leader Gowron once warned, "vay'DaghIjlaHchugh bIHoSghaj" ("Fear is power," for those who haven't checked the Klingon dictionary). Along with her sibling B'Etor, she tried to control the Klingon High Council, allied with the Romulans, then played a role in the death of Captain James T. Kirk.
The Duras sisters may be gone, but they're not forgotten. "Hegh neH chav qoH," Lursa might have said scornfully - "A fool's only achievement is death," which was her unsympathetic comment in the Next Generation episode "Redemption" about the death of her brother. But her fans remember how she turned Klingon patriarchy on its head before her own untimely demise.
Though actress Barbara March hasn't donned her prosthetic makeup since Generations, Lursa is still with her, too. A popular convention guest along with fellow Canadian Gwynyth Walsh, who played B'Etor, March laments the fall of the House of Duras, and has contemplated writing a book which would tell the sisters' backstories.
"I loved the character, but I think it was inevitable that we had to die," March said following an appearance at Maryland's annual Shore Leave convention in Hunt Valley. "Villainess sex goddesses must die - that's the truth! I don't know how we got so famous, but I think it's because it's a female duo, and there just hasn't been that except Xena and Gabrielle - but that's not the same as these two sisters, heads of a world."
March isn't recognizable as Lursa outside of costume - for one thing, her voice sounds completely different without the Klingon dentures. And for another, she doesn't seem quite so big, though perhaps that is a function of having her cleavage covered up - something Lursa rarely did. The actress, writer, teacher, and mother of a teenage daughter spends more time cooking these days than plotting galactic conquest.
She also became a story editor on a show in which her husband was appearing, and now has several scripts in various stages of production. "I kind of threw both my feet into writing, which was something I had never done before," the actress recounted. "My husband, Alan Scarfe, was doing Jules Verne's Mysterious Island in New Zealand and the scripts were not great, so I said, 'I'll write one.' I wrote one original episode, then the producer said, 'You're on as story editor.'"
Now March commutes between her home in California and Vancouver, where Scarfe stars on UPN's Seven Days and where March maintains connections with the Canadian film industry. "I have a film that I wrote, a futuristic one, but it has a lead character that's close to 40 - I believe that 40-year-old women need some good stuff. It's set after a nuclear holocaust, and there's a producer in Vancouver who's very interested in it so when I visit Alan I'm going to go talk to her about it. I'm hoping that if I can manage to get it produced up there, maybe Alan can direct it."
Klingon Kleavage Klub
March is pleased that there is a web page honoring well-endowed Klingon women, created by celebrated fan costumer Rhul. "I felt that I did good by doing Lursa, because I'm a large woman - I'm 160 pounds, big bones, big everything," said the actress. "When I meet large women who come to conventions with their cleavage exposed, and for the first time feel proud of their bodies with a sense of dignity and a kind of sexual aggressiveness, I am so grateful. That's important. I'm so glad that those women can come out and feel like they're beautiful."
But March also believes that the sexy look of Lursa and B'Etor may have contributed to their downfall. "That might have been a continual problem, I think, on that kind of show," she admitted. "The first script of Generations had Lursa and B'Etor doing a lot more stuff, doing something horrific to Geordi when they took him on board, but they cut all that down. We didn't really seem to kick that much butt, and I think they decided it was just time to kill us off. I don't think that the writers, who did generic kind of villainnesses, understood what it was like to be a Klingon female."
It was always complicated for the producers to accommodate the Duras Sisters because there were two of them - March's and Walsh's schedules had to be synchronized so they could shoot episodes together. Even now, convention organizers tend to want both of them at the same event. But playing the parts was never difficult for the women...apart from getting used to the costumes and makeup.
"They're the most uncomfortable, difficult costumes you could ever wear. I think the costume and the makeup really created the character - the voice, the teeth, and the bustier, the whalebone corset! All of that makes that stiff, sort of hard, heavy, intense feeling inside you. So you use everything," explained March. "That was really kind of brilliant. Who would have thought the uncomfortable teeth would be necessary to create the characters?"
"You can't do very much in costume - you can't sit, you can't lift your legs, you can't physically kick butt like Xena can in her costume," she added. "We had to do it with our personalities. That's probably why we didn't kick Kirk's butt; we couldn't have done it on that little platform! It's a bit like one of those opera dolls that can't move anything."
March drew on Lady Macbeth as a model, a character she describes as "sensual, sexual, very strong, very quiet. It's holstered up inside, she's sitting on it, whereas B'Etor got to erupt." The pair plotted to make their nephew ruler of the Empire so they could silently kill him off, then allied with the Romulans when their scheme was discovered. "You don't think of them as evil when you play them," March noted. "You can't play evil, you can't play good, you can only play the character you're given to play.
Though it was fun for her to have had a role in the demise of Captain Kirk, "I would have rather we were directly responsible!" the actress laughed. "I think it would have been great if we were torturing him in some bizarre way, I think everybody would have loved it. Two females against this male!" One suspects that if Kirk had to die in Generations, he'd just as soon have been suffocated between Lursa and B'Etor.
A Classic Trek fan, March "found the initial series so much more philosophical; you could really bite into it in a philosophical way. I find that the graphics in the new stuff takes over too much from what I feel was an actor's medium. There was much more that they had to do personality-wise, especially Spock - that's so wonderful, because it's closer to your human-ness and your passion."
It had seemed from the original series episode "Day of the Dove" that Klingon women could aspire to the same positions as Klingon men - Kang's wife Marta was his first officer and treated her as much an equal as any of the women on the original series. Yet the Duras sisters' primary motivation in seeking underhanded means to control the Empire stemmed from the stated fact that, as females, they could not rule the empire. Since when?
"Since 1990, when Roddenberry died," March sighed. "They changed all those premises that he had started with - the issue of race in his series, the issue of sexism. When you do things with a studio on network television, there's censorship, and it's hard to put things across. He managed to do it under an alien guise, and he talked about all the issues of the sixties. I think the studio executives didn't realize that underneath was a great deal of philosophical discussion about the world and about power. But that's what grabbed everybody, and I think that's why it's such an ongoing thing - it's not because a bunch of people dress up in funny costumes."
Though Klingon is spoken fluently as a living language by the members of the Klingon Language Institute, March admitted that she can't keep up with it. "I'm having a hard time just learning Spanish at my age, which has a root in the Latin romance; Klingon would be completely difficult! I get greeted in Klingon, but we only know what we know. We're only actors. They're playing almost the reality in a way, which is fantastic. We tried to be close to what we thought it would be like, but there wasn't a bible; these characters were really the first two out-there female Klingon characters, there wasn't any source from which we could work."
March said she would like to live in Roddenberry's future "as long as there isn't a loss of passion. A lot of cerebral stuff is great, and sort of dividing yourself between your emotions and your thoughts where maybe emotions become second to rationality, but at the same time, it's not an easy thing. I think there are controversies that will never change, I don't know that we'll ever be that rational and that orderly. Would I like to live in an ideal world, yes, but I might find it not natural. It's a wonderful dream, like Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream - when Titania says to Oberon, through our arguments and our behavior, we destroy the world."
Trek fans who know March as Lursa may not be aware that in 1980 she was nominated for a Genie Award - Canada's equivalent to the Oscars - for her role in Deserters as the cynical wife of a 1970s political protestor. After graduating from the University of Windsor, she worked as a teacher and performer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and at Guelph University. She also starred in the film The Portrait with her husband, winning praise from the press and a note in Variety about the "keen erotic undercurrent" between the two.
"I really wanted to work in the theater, and when my daughter was born I tried it a couple of times, I did The Duchess of Malfi at the Guthrie" - a powerful performance which also won rave reviews - "but it was so difficult. Once she started school, I knew that one of us had to give up," March recalled. "Alan said, we'll move to Los Angeles, and maybe we can stay home more often, but he ended up going to New Zealand for a year, and somebody had to stay home. I was quite glad to do it. I couldn't do both things - I really find that the guilt is too hard. That doesn't mean that one isn't sad, sometimes, one hasn't gotten to do certain roles."
Still, taking time off as an actress allowed March to discover her next career. After writing the episode "Labours Lost" for her husband's show Mysterious Island, she found a long-lost American novel written in 1929 which she realized would make a great film. "It's based on an incident that happened to the writer's sister, a brilliant woman who became a lawyer in Clarksville, Tennessee, where being a female lawyer was unheard of. She defended a black man in a case of self-defense and murder. It's a wonderful part for a woman, but it's tricky because it's not a happy reconstructed ending. This is a time before civil rights. The black male character is a fantastic character as well, more like a Martin Luther King than a Malcolm X. It's wandering around the studios, but I think we may try to adapt it into a play if the film doesn't happen."
Though she said that in ten years, she would like to be "on a Harley-Davidson tooling around Italy," March has several other writing projects in the works: the futuristic film which she hopes to produce in Canada, a young adult novel, a play about the Bronte sisters, and a book about Jack the Ripper which she and her husband are working on together, with March doing the research and Scarfe writing the fiction. "I think a male-female team can make it well-rounded," she noted. "Most of TV could use a few female voices, but I really feel like they could use a few male voices on Lifetime. I really feel like the world is much more rounded than any of the networks want to tell me about. I'm not a television viewer for that reason."
Back to the Boob Tube
In addition to Seven Days, where her husband plays Bradley Talmadge, and E.R., where her stepson Jonathan is a recurring character, March does watch The X-Files. "I think X-Files is wonderful because the characters are very interesting," March claimed. "They're kind of oddball, very good actors, they're not gorgeous, and I think that Chris Carter had a hold on that series from the beginning so it flowed. The editing is brilliant, and the camera work. If you can do all that so extraordinarily well with your limited budget, it's not the director, it's the person behind it - like Roddenberry. X-Files is more exactly like what Roddenberry did with the original series."
"You can't rule by committee, you need a benevolent dictator, no matter what you're doing in life," she added."It's like having a committee when you're raising your children. I've learned that lesson - I should have been a benevolent dictator!"
March and Scarfe's fourteen-year-old daughter plays piano and guitar and sings, but is apparently not interested in following her parents into the theater, though she does attend conventions with March when she travels, as the actress will be doing to Hanover, Germany next month. "During school year it's really hard, I only do one or two - mostly they want Gwynyth and I together. Acting-wise, I'm not so sure I want to do it anymore. You grow up after awhile, too."
But if Paramount called...? "Of course I'd do Lursa again!" she exclaimed. "I love this character. But there's no way they're going to bring us back. What are you going to do with us, have us raising babies? I think it would be incredible, but it won't happen."
Still, March has considered writing Lursa's backstory herself. "I'm one of these people who reads five books at the same time and I never finish anything, so don't wait for it," she warned. "But people ask me these questions, and I said to myself, come on, Barbara, you're a woman, you're a writer, you're an actress - write something! I want to go right to the homeworld - birth, death, life, and what about love? What about nurturing? That takes a lot of philosophical thinking. You could do it off the cuff, but I don't want to do that. There are so many things you cannot do onscreen. Their remarkableness has to be not just villainous evil. It has to be something else about it."