Arts & Culture

Modern-day ‘Richard III’ explores the power of charm

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012

Shakespeare on the Green will turn Metcalf Courtyard into a modern political stage for its performance of “Richard III” this weekend, the first time the theater troupe has performed in this space.
The play, which runs Oct. 18-21, portrays the rise to power of Richard III, whose charisma and clever turn of phrase offset his physical deformities. Despite his many indiscretions, Richard is able to charm those around him with every manner of artful manipulation. Throughout the play, characters begin the scene despising him, only to leave the stage completely taken over by his charms.
Director Emma Brandt ’14 envisioned the play in a more modern setting – “taking place in the halls of Congress,” she said. The costumes reflect the contemporary setting, with characters in business suits and roses on their lapels – the flowers red and white to signify the Wars of the Roses.
“It’s about power and abuse of power,” Brandt said. In light of election season, “We wanted to think about the role of charm in politics,” she added.
Richard’s ability to seduce those around him while simultaneously orchestrating their deaths and downfalls is supposed to disturb the audience, Brandt said. “It should be a little unnerving.”
The play boasts a cast of 15 actors, who together play 20 parts. Nearly half the original characters were cut from the play, Brandt said, to facilitate ease of comprehension and accommodate the large amount of dialogue removed from the original.
The roles are gender-neutral, with both women and men playing characters  originally of the opposite sex. The casting choice enabled transcendent performances from the actors. Brian Semel ’16 is a standout as Lady Anne Neville, a woman who, angry and grieving over the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, is courted and eventually seduced by Richard.
Props are used sparingly, allowing the actors to fully embrace their stage. A single table functions as both a surface to hold the body of Henry VI and the desk of Richard III once he is anointed king.
The actors take full advantage of the courtyard, entering the scene from varying locations and performing close to the audience.
Simon Henriques ’15 as Richard masters the many dimensions of the stage, leaping onto benches and towering above the other characters, a contrast that adds another dimension of power to Richard’s already commanding presence.
Richard III is both the titular character and the star of the play. Henriques brings incredible force to the role, coupling Richard’s forceful rhetoric with fluid movements and broad gestures. Richard’s physicality contrasts with the rigidity of the other characters, all of whom seem dwarfed by Richard both in height and authority.
Ari Beller ’16 and Nick Anderson ’16 are both funny and poignantly sincere as two murderers hired by Richard who are grappling with their consciences, and Max Genecov ’15 brings fervor to role of the strong-willed Queen Elizabeth Woodville.
The audience feels at once divorced from – though deeply entrenched in – the events of the play, as major advancements are often not shown onstage, but instead reported to the crowd by a newscaster (Darcy Pinkerton ’14). The addition of this original character, who Brandt based on Scrivener in the Shakespearean play, allowed the show to be condensed from three to roughly two hours, Brandt said.
The play’s most climactic scene involves an element of the supernatural – the ghosts of those characters who died because of Richard return to him as he sleeps, cursing him in overlapping reprimands. Richard awakes with a sense of newfound despair and self-loathing and laments that even he cannot love himself.
“At that point he’s completely psychologically broken down,” Brandt said. Richard’s undoing is both literal and metaphoric in the scene, as he gradually removes his clothing, leaving his back brace – and symbolic vulnerability – exposed as the scene ends.
The question of self, Brandt said, is constantly addressed within the play. Richard contorts his character based on the people he interacts with, constantly refiguring his identity to further himself in the political world.
“If you are performing all the time,” Brandt said, do you have any true sense of self?
“Everybody is kind of different with different people,” Brandt said. “Richard takes that to a certain extreme.”

  • Iceman

    Henriques is a disgrace. Yes, he does “tower above the other characters,” but that’s mainly because he is a freakish, fifteen-foot-tall mutant, and I found it unrealistic that he would win over voters even as he crushes them with his giant hands. I’ve seen broader gestures on a narrow-gauge railroad. The only fluid movements was my diarrhea during intermission, which can be traced back to both my disgust with the play and those frogs I ate. The production was far less erotic than the original, and I found the force Simon brought to the role to be both credible and titular.

  • Anonymous

    No but seriously guys everyone should see this. Simon!!

  • Iceman

    No but seriously guys everyone should see this. Simon!!