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From king to don: a gangster take on ‘Richard III’

Grace Myers | Friday, April 21, 2006

The Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company will perform “Richard III,” a play which, contrary to the theater company’s name, is all about royalty.

Taking place this weekend in Washington Hall, this powerful, classic play of a man starved for power and willing to manipulate or even kill those who stand in the way of the throne, is sure to engage and interest theater enthusiasts. Richard III is hated by many and feared by all and yet the audience still sympathizes with this cruel leader. A poignant tale of absolute corruption and a portrayal of the dangers of totalitarianism, “Richard III” is as gripping as it is powerful.

This production is sure to be entertaining for all, because of its original and interesting interpretation. Set in 1950s American gang country, “Richard III” is directed by Jeff Eyerman, the Company Manager/Executive Director of Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame.

“I honestly never really fancied myself a director, I like acting much more,” Eyerman said, “but this summer I happened to watch ‘The Godfather’ in close conjunction with McKellen’s ‘Richard III,’ and the similarities really struck me.”

This interpretation makes the historical character of Richard III more accessible to the modern audience, as well as comments on the other instances of hatred and terror within history.

The audience sees how Richard resents his brother’s power and happiness, suffers from a physical deformity and schemes to gain the throne of England. Using his deceptive personality, skills of political manipulation and ruthless will to kill those who stand in his way, Richard’s reign of terror finally alienates him from the court and his own people.

Scott Wagner plays Richard III, giving an outstanding performance of an extremely complex character.

Eyerman explained the reasoning behind his decision to interpret Richard as a loathsome character.

“In the end, I think, it’s just so much more fun to sit in the audience and look at this conniving, murdering, evil human being who wants to hear details about smothering children than it is to watch [him] grapple with his own humanity or some such tag line,” he said.

Wagner is indeed capable of the role, having participated in several other Shakespeare performances at Notre Dame and in high school. Although he’s headed for medical school, Wagner wanted the part of Richard for his last performance, stating how fun the rehearsals have been and his deep respect for all his fellow cast and crew.

“[Richard III’s] one of the most difficult characters I’ve played. He’s evil, but there are sides that are very guilty and the audience has sympathy,” Wagner said.

Eyerman’s goal is for the audience “to leave the play feeling a bit like Lady Anne – walk in ready to hate the greatest villain in English history, but leave grossly captive to his honey words.” Indeed, the entire cast of “Richard III” succeeds in bringing this about, as the audience can’t help but wrestle with their mixed feelings about the volatile Richard.

This performance by the Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company has a remarkable cast, crew and is an interesting and thought-provoking interpretation of a classic Shakespearean play.

“Richard III” will be performed on Friday and Saturday at 7.30 p.m. in Washington Hall. Tickets are available both through the LaFortune Box Office and at the door.