By William Shakespeare
Bare Bones Shakespeare
Directed by Joel Frapart
Stage Manager – Makinzy Springer
Adam Kullman – Fight Director
Julia Gayden Nelson – Margaret, Richard of York, Citizen, Murder, Messenger, Page
Mandy Reichelt – Catesby, Dorset, Blunt, Bishop of Ely
Patrick Vincent – Edward, Stanley, Norfolk, Citizen, Lord Mayor
Daniel White – Hastings, Archbishop of York, Messenger, Herbert
Caitlin Campbell – Elizabeth, Prince Edward, Tyrrel, Urswick, Surrey
Annalie Caruthers – Anne, Murderer, Citizen, Messenger
Adam Kullman – Richard of Glouchester (King Richard III), Citizen, Sherriff
Nancy Lamb – Rivers, Duchess of York, Messenger, Oxford, Cardinal
Tom McKee – Buckingham, Brakenbury, Messenger
Jacob Reed Myers – Clarence, Ratcliff, Scrivener, Richmond/Gentleman
Reviewed Performance: 7/8/2017
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
A plethora of Shakespeare’s productions showing stories about despot leaders are being seen these days. Why? Much of the Shakespeare canon focuses on the excesses and craziness by the upper classes. A few focus on despots who created great turmoil, pain and suffering. Why now?
“Into a kingdom of turmoil, a kingdom where the rich are constantly enhancing themselves and the rest languish in poverty, a kingdom that has never been as politically divided between two sides as it is now, comes Richard of Gloucester.” Bare Bones Shakespeare answered the question in their promotional notes. We live in a time that parallels the worlds Shakespeare wrote about.
Richard of Gloucester, the last Plantagenet King, was a man deformed in body. Famous historical actors portrayed him as a hunchback. A London parking lot recently yielded a body suspected of being the real Richard. Skeletal analysis confirmed by DNA that it was Richard and showed that he did indeed have severe scoliosis. But that was his physical deformity. What of his mental state?
Shakespeare wrote this story for his audiences, who knew well the family histories of their monarchs. He depicts Richard in his entire evil persona, but the message to his audiences concerned their condition and addressed the aristocrats and monarchy of his time, not Richard’s.
Such is also the purpose of Bare Bones’ production of Richard III as a provocation of thought about our leadership and the society we allow to flourish today. Joel Frapart writes, “My goal … is not simply to be critical of our current President …. It is to be critical of the political climate, where self-interest and party loyalty become more important than what is actually good for the country. It is to be critical of our culture….”
Bare Bones returns to the roots of Shakespeare in design and production, a bare stage minimalist production that focuses on text as it was performed originally.
Richard III, now at Rover Dramawerks’ theater in Plano, uses a bare stage like a black box rehearsal hall with a few small acting boxes. Props included a few pocket knives and smart phones used by most everyone, perhaps as text reminders, and a few other simple items for war and royalty. In fact, the setting was modern day, complete with a projection screen showing current tweets (a la an unnamed current President) and news articles of fake news. A few sound effects appeared and basic lighting was used, but there were no listed designers. That’s bare. It should be noted that the setting of the story was England, not America.
Costuming was modern day, maybe out of the actors’ closets, and these provided a method to discern which of many characters an actor played. Women played numerous male roles, as well as the few female roles in this story, and because 10 actors played 44 characters, there was a lot of costume changing. Sometimes this involved a minor change of an accessory, a different hat, a sash, or a dress over a dress for a few lines. It was done very quickly, so there were no scene changes and the story unfolded in under 2-hours.
Joel Frapart directed Richard and it’s hard to know where directorial vision merged with ensemble collaboration, but his Director’s Notes pointed to his vision of the message about our current political situation. Some actors were company members while some were new to Bare Bones. They knew the text well. The challenge is how to deliver lines in a way that is understandable to 21st Century ears and true to a conversational delivery we humans use. Shakespeare may have been a poet, but plays are about dialog and it has to be somewhat natural. They all did this well, though at times it seemed that getting the text right overshadowed the real emotional outbursts that make Shakespeare so powerful.
Richard was played by Adam Kullman. As Richard, he created an arm/hand deformity and crouched and bent his body to portray the requisite grotesque character. There’s no real arc for Richard, as his opening monologue betrays his devious mind and he goes downhill from there. Kullman found a look that wasn’t quite a scowl, but showed Richard’s jaded, manipulative view of everyone around him. What came through was how easy it was to manipulate people to unethical, questionable and violent action.
Some of those who were manipulated included Buckingham and Sir William Catesby. Buckingham was played by Tom McKee with a bit of sleaze, ensuring that Buckingham follows Richard religiously until he falls out of favor and turns on the king. But Buckingham participates fully in Richard’s plots to gain the throne and so his fate is sealed when he’s captured. As Catesby, Mandy Reichelt’s character resembled something of a Kellyanne Conway personality, an unlikely advisor and unabashed apologist for her leader’s bad behavior. In these two characters, and several others who carry out the murderous plots in Richard’s mind, we saw Director Frapart’s challenge to our own politics take root.
There’s another group in this story, which is really the final years of the 30-years of sparring between the Plantagenet families of York and Lancaster. The War of the Roses consisted of these rich families violently trading the rule of the realm back and forth. Shakespeare’s history plays wind through this war.
In Richard III, the “good guys” are relatives of King Henry VI, murdered by Richard prior to the opening scene. Henry’s son, Edward, Richard’s brother, ascends to crown, but is manipulated by Richard into suspecting Clarence; Richard’s other brother, of treason. Richard has Clarence murdered and this hastens the death of Edward, which opens the way for Richard to take the throne. There are legitimate Princes to the throne, but Richard is their named Protector and he locks them in the tower and become his next targets. Most of the good guys get killed in this story, but in the end, Richard is killed in the battle at Bosworth Field, ending the War of the Roses.
Julia Gayden Nelson played Margaret at times, who was part of the Lancaster faction, and at times played Richard (Duke) of York. She also played a citizen, a messenger, a page, and, in a direct reference to Donald Trump, one of the murderers for Richard, as Miss Florida. She was joined in this killing effort by Annalie Caruthers as Miss Oklahoma. Together they formed a comic pair who provided the biggest comedy moment. Their task was to kill Clarence, but that became a much bigger challenge than they planned. Nelson played all her parts with great attention to making very different choices for each, changing not only costumes, but posture, vocal range, and accent.
Caruthers added Lady Anne to her ensemble of characters. Lady Anne is the wife of the King who Richard has murdered before the opening and she then becomes Richard’s wife and Queen, though he also has her killed in the story. Her disdain for Kullman’s Richard never quite reaches the vitriolic level it deserves, and Richard’s seduction never reaches the true evil capacity in their scene, but nonetheless they reveal Shakespeare’s text clearly and this provides a counter to Richard’s attempt in the end to force a marriage with Elizabeth’s daughter.
Caitlin Campbell played Elizabeth. Elizabeth (Woodville), wife of King Edward, who died after Richard had their brother Clarence murdered, is in conflict with Margaret, a former Queen in the Lancaster family, and Campbell had to show this long-standing hatred between the two Queens, something like two ex-wives discussing their shared husband. She then played Elizabeth’s son, Prince Edward. Prince Edward and his brother are the two kids locked in the tower by King Richard and are murdered. In another great casting stroke, Campbell also played Tyrell, the murderer hired by Richard to kill the Princes. In each of these characters, Campbell created distinct personalities with her language style and look.
There are books about the lineages of these families and they read like some 100-year Peyton Place or Dallas episode. They were rich monarchs who trashed the countries they ruled and managed to get thousands of people killed just to satisfy their personal greed. No one would dare question them.
All this makes for a dramatic story by Shakespeare, yet it’s well known that much of the story of Richard III is historically inaccurate, though based in some actual events. Shakespeare manipulated the truth to create dramatic effect for his audiences, likely as a message to Queen Elizabeth I, who was the eventual successor to all this history. She recognized herself in his stories and allowed them to flourish. But his inaccurate histories, like fake narratives, unfold today as it likely did on Shakespeare’s stage, to great applause and an understanding of the real messages amongst the lies.
Bare Bones’ production is a modern take on Richard, with parallels to the intrigues of today easily sewn into the story. Whether the facts are accurate doesn’t matter a lot, as it is a message to us about our own divisive, partisan politics, born out of our political and cultural choices, and our apparent need to enable the greed of the rich. Many of us want to be like them. Like the people in Richard III, it seems we just watch events unfold with nothing but sniping and comment on social media. Is there more we can do?
Photo Credits: by Andrew Sherman
Bare Bones Shakespeare
At Rover Dramawerks, 221 W. Parker #580, Plano, TX 75023
Plays through July 15th
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets for Fridays/Saturdays are $22 ($20 Students/Seniors) – Thursdays and Sundays are $16 ($14 Students/Seniors). For information and tickets, go to www.barebonesshakespeare.com or call 469-701-3228.