Richard III

Last night Kish and I went to see the Actors’ Theatre performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Schiller Park.  It was a clear, beautiful night, which has been so rare in Columbus that we felt like we had to take advantage of it.  And what better way to celebrate a pretty evening than by sitting outside, watching one of the Bard’s finest works?

In our world William Shakespeare’s genius is just an accepted fact of life, and things that are accepted often, perhaps, are not fully appreciated.  That’s unfortunate.  Richard III is a fantastic piece of creative work — bright and snapping in its language, brilliant in its cast and settings, and ultimately intense in its crushing moral message.  The tale of bloody, duplicitous, deformed Richard of Gloucester, who slays friends, brothers, and children and endures the hatred of his own mother in his ruthless quest for the throne and then is brought low to die alone, is simply one of the very finest pieces of theater that has ever been written.  The second half of the play, in particular, is an awesome tour de force, and the penultimate scene where Richard, on the eve of the final battle, is haunted in his dreams by the ghosts of the people he has murdered, who tell him to “Despair, and die!” is uniquely, chillingly powerful.

The Actors’ Theatre production does a fine job with this titanic work, with Geoff Wilson, as Richard, and Vicky Welsh Bragg, as Queen Margaret, being particular standouts in my view.  Interestingly, the production places the play in a ’50s-era gangland setting, complete with fedoras, pin-striped suits, and Chuck Berry and Frank Sinatra song snippets between scenes, but it otherwise sticks to the original Shakespeare dialogue.  The result didn’t quite work for me — “My kingdom for a horse!” shouldn’t come from the mouth of a guy wearing a sharkskin suit, I think — by the play itself still shines.  Anyone who loves good writing and good acting should see it.

Out For Blood

When I walked to Schiller Park on Sunday during one of the dry interludes between the spring rainstorms, work was underway at the amphitheater.  Part of the deck of a pirate ship was being constructed, with the wheel and yardarm yet to be added.  Come Thursday we’ll hear the clash of steel echoing across the parkland as the new season of Actors’ Theatre of Columbus opens with the rollicking pirate swashbuckler Captain Blood.

IMG_5457Actors’ Theatre is one of those institutions that helps to enrich the culture in our fair city.  For decades the group has put on performances of Shakespeare and other plays during the summer at Schiller Park.  The performances are open to all, with a blanket section down front and a lawn chair section behind, and guests are encouraged to pack a picnic dinner and bring the beverage of their choice to enjoy during the shows.  Schiller Park, a great older park with mature trees, is a beautiful setting for outdoor theater on a summer evening.

Amazingly, all of the performances are on a “pay what you will” basis, with audience members putting their contributions into a basket at intermission — although the Actors’ Theatre guys I met on Sunday noted that this year the group will supplement the contributions by offering some reserved chairs and blankets.  The FAQ section of the Actors’ Theatre website notes that each performance costs the group precisely $10.24 per audience member — so everyone should aim to exceed that amount.

This season begins with Captain Blood, running from May 21 through June 21, followed by William Shakespeare’s epic Richard III from June 25 through August 2, then Moliere’s The Miser from August 6 through September 6.  All of those performances run from Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m.  The season ends with All The Great Books (Abridged), which will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday September 11 through 20 at the Bicentennial Stage at the Columbus Commons.  Kish and I can’t wait.

My Kingdom For A Hearse!

William Shakespeare’s gravestone states, in part:  “Blessed be the man that spares these stones,  And cursed be he that moves my bones.”  Now the historical figure behind one of Shakespeare’s most famous literary creations — Richard III — might well share that sentiment.

Scientists in Great Britain launched a careful search for the remains of Richard III, and they are convinced they found them — buried beneath an ordinary parking lot.  King Richard III reined for only two years and was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Shakespeare’s Richard III famously cried:  “A horse!  A horse!  My kingdom for a horse!”  The dead king’s body was taken to Leicester, England, where it was buried in a church called Greyfriars.  But the church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th century, and its exact location was lost in the mists of time.  Historians later determined the location of the church, which is now occupied by a parking lot.  They unearthed remains that had been buried in a hurriedly prepared, too small grave, compared the DNA of the remains to the DNA of a seventeenth-generation descendant of Richard III’s sister, and confirmed from the DNA match that the remains were indeed those of the former king.

The remains show that Richard III was not hunchbacked — as he is often depicted — but rather was the victim of scoliosis, a condition that causes a marked curvature of the spine.  The remains also show that Richard III was treated very rudely at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  His skull was pierced by a sharp blade, another part of it was cut away, and it bore the evidence of six other injuries to the face and head.  The rest of his skeleton revealed two injuries, including marks on the pelvis that suggests that the king may have taken a spear up the keister from one of the victors on the battlefield.  No wonder he wanted a horse!

I’ve always thought that Richard III was one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, and that the Richard III he created was one of his most memorable characters.  (If you’re interested in the play but far away from Stratford-upon-Avon, the 1995 film of Richard III, starring Ian McKellen as a Richard transplanted into a modern fascist world, is excellent.)  The identification of the remains of the king — which now will be more appropriately interred — just add another interesting chapter to the tale of a fascinating historical figure.