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Ruthie Ann Miles on Playing the Surprisingly Complex Mrs. Marcos in Here Lies Love

“When we did the show last year at Mass MoCA,” says Ruthie Ann Miles, now playing Imelda Marcos in David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love, “I was four or five months pregnant. And in my mind I was thinking, Well, when we do it at the Public in April, I’ll be nursing—no problem.” She giggles. “I was maybe a little naïve.” But here she is, twelve weeks postpartum, dancing and spinning (and dashing off between rehearsals to pump for baby Abigail), all while whipping through eighteen hair and costume changes. Including a swimsuit. “The costume designer gave me a couple of weeks’ heads-up. I was like, ‘A bathing suit?!’ He said, ‘I’ll never let you go out there looking bad. Whatever it takes.’ ”

Miles anchors the show, strikingly so for an actress only just out of her touring-company-and-understudy phase: Last year, she was singing the part of an anglerfish in a cartoon for the American Museum of Natural History. Here Lies Love, by contrast, is a loose musical biography of the woman whose husband’s corrupt Philippines presidency ended in 1986 when the couple was airlifted to Hawaii. (The show ends there, too, and does not mention the infamous shoe closet, which was revealed later.) Byrne makes an ambivalent case for Imelda as a person: She was either a calculating partner in her husband’s megacrime, or a flibbertigibbet who enjoyed her life too much to ask hard questions, or both. (Miles says she feels “some empathy” with Imelda—up to a point.)

In Alex Timbers’s production, the audience stands, intermingled with the cast, in a room kitted out like a disco. (Imelda was a regular at Studio 54.) Down on the floor, “the actors are actually touching the audience,” Miles says, spinning her hands to convey the way the action whirls through the room. “We call it the blender!”    

*This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Marco Grob/New York Magazine