On Friday evening, November 19, 2010 the Hilberry Theatre Company opened its production of William Shakespeare’s tale of the notorious Richard III to an enthusiastic audience. As dark as this story is, the audience couldn’t help but erupt in occasional bursts of grim laughter as Richard lured yet another hapless victim into his fatal entrapments.
This production was the vision of guest-director Alison Vesely, the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of First Folio Theatre, an Actors Equity Association Affiliated company in Oak Brook, Illinois. We spoke with Vesely before seeing the show, and were intrigued by her approach ….
‘I love the play. I’ve directed it twice before. It’s one of the most wonderful histories/tragedies that Shakespeare ever wrote. And this is the most interesting villain ever written. Because he’s charming. He charms Ann, he charms Buckingham, he charms the audience! And that’s a wonderful dichotomy to explore.’
Given a cast of 18 actors playing 30+ parts, Vesely embraced the challenge by overtly cluing the audience in to the device of having one actor play multiple parts. The show opens with the Stage Manager calling light cues and bringing the players on stage. As they walk onto the imposing set, (designed by Jacee Rohlck to dwarf the actors and to also accommodate the entire cast on stage) the actors finish dressing, doing vocal warm-ups, stretching, etc. Eventually the actors position themselves about the stage, pose for a portrait, and settle in to watch the play that they will help create.
“I really like the idea of [the actors] witnessing the story along with the audience. It puts us all in the same room, in a way, and speaks to the idea that those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it.’ Says Vesely. And to clarify, she adds, ‘Don’t get sucked in by political leaders who are charming.’
Richard III is effectively brought to life by first-year Hilberry student Edmund Alyn Jones, who has appeared with many of Detroit’s theatre companies, including the Gem, Music Hall, City Theatre, Furniture Factory, Magenta Giraffe and Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit.
Jones jokes about his selection as Richard III: ‘How often do you see a nice, friendly black guy from Detroit portray a cranky, bloodthirsty, hunchbacked English monarch?’
Vesley commented on the joy of working with the amazing Hilberry company – cast, designers and crew – and how impressed she is with the entire program. She also noted that everyone embraced the notion of the cast members doubling as audience.
‘When actors are watching – they are part of the audience. And Richard speaks directly to the audience – they are the judge and jury.’
Of course, from where we sit in the audience, this also serves to underline the macabre machinations of Richard. At the opening of the show, the actors sit in imposing high-backed chairs arranged across the breadth of the stage. As the play progresses, more and more of the characters are killed off; finally there is only Richard III, alone on the throne, amidst all those vacated chairs.
The effect is mesmerizing. The ensemble performance is a treat. The set and costume design are a bonus. We recommend this show to anyone curious but intimidated by the reputation of Richard III.
The show runs in repertory through February 25, 2011.
Tickets, or more information, are available at the Hilberry Theatre Box Office– 313-577-2972 or online. The theatre is on the campus of Wayne State University, at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Cass Ave. and Hancock, in Detroit. Performance information and tickets may also be obtained by visiting the Theatre’s websites at www.hiberry.com and www.wsushows.com.
Edmund Alyn Jones (Richard III), Carollette Phillips (Lady Anne), Alan Ball (Buckingham), Samantha Rosentrater (Queen Elizabeth), Erman Jones (Stanley), Jason Cabral (Ratcliffe), Chris Ellis (Hastings), Adam Maslak (Grey), Andrew Papa (Richmond), Peter Prouty (King Edward), Vanessa Sawson (Clarence), David Toomey (Catesby), Jordan Whalen (Rivers), Lorelei Sturm (Dutchess of York), Sara Hymes (Brakenbury), Alex Hill (Prince Edward), Marlina Murkowski (Clarence’s Daughter) and Erin Hildebrandt (Young Duke of York).
Mercedes Coley(Production Stage Manager), Jacee Rohlck (Scenic Designer), Christa Koerner (Costume Designer), Jason Pratt (Lighting Designer), Mike Thomas (Sound Designer), Curtis Green (Technical Director), Michael Wilkki (Props Master), and Robert Lima (Publicity Manager).