As a (former) theater teacher and long time Shakespeare lover, I always look forward to the Independent Shakespeare Company’s summer Shakespeare in the Park series. Last year the ISC produced one of my all-time favorite versions of Romeo and Juliet, which is saying a lot because it one of my favorites, and the one I have worked on the most. But they did such a brilliant job, I loved everything about it. So I was super pumped for this year to see what they had in store for us. But I was less than thrilled when I saw the two shows on the docket were two of my least favorite: Richard III and The Tempest. No real offense to The Tempest, it’s just not my fave, and I spent four months of our spring semester working with a group of junior high kids on a scene from The Tempest that needed to be both funny and age appropriate (which is like not a real thing since the real comedy comes from the characters who are wasted the entire show). But I digress (shocker). Anyway. Being so recently scarred by The Tempest, I decided to go see Richard III, and I dragged Matt along with me.
Some basics about ISC and some tips for having an awesome experience:
- The shows are staged at the Old LA Zoo in Griffith Park, which is one of the coolest outdoor locations for a show ever. When you get to the park, follow the signs that lead you to the site.
- Be aware that you have to walk through the dirt to get to the performance. Real shoes are recommended.
- It gets chilly when the sun goes down, so bring a sweatshirt.
- Also bring a picnic. Also bring wine (though this is not technically allowed, everyone does it).
- If you are going to bring chairs, bring low ones. Don’t be that guy with the huge chairs blocking everyone else’s view.
- Get there early. These productions are becoming more popular every year so it is getting harder and harder to get good seats. Plus, there are several nights in the series where there are pre-show performances and activities.
- Bring some cash. The show itself is free, but definitely bring some cash for donations and/or concessions. They do take cards, but cash is a little easier to work with.
- With any Shakespeare play, make sure you read a summary before you go. Even when I am going to see a play I know well, I still read a summary to refresh my memory and make sure I can understand what is actually happening during the production.
Some quick background on Richard III: Richard III is a history play, which means it is based on real people and actual events from British history. Richard is the youngest of three brothers, his eldest brother Edward being the King of England. Richard decides to subtly usurp the throne (at least it is subtle in the beginning) by first killing his middle brother George. Then he blames Edward for killing George, which combined with Edward’s already frail health, kills him (Edward). Richard then becomes the regent for Edward’s young son and pretty much becomes the king for all intents and purposes. That’s not enough though. He begins to pick off the young king’s supporters one by one, including his mother’s brothers and plenty of dukes and lords. Finally, Richard has both of his brother’s sons locked in the Tower of London and kills them both. Richard then takes the crown and sets his sights on marrying his niece Elizabeth, having already disposed of his first wife. Elizabeth’s mother (also Elizabeth) instead conspires with Richmond, who gathers his forces and battles Richard for the crown (this is where the famous “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” line comes from). Richmond is victorious, becomes Henry VII and marries the young Elizabeth. That’s it in a nutshell.
For my part, I really enjoy the story of Richard III because I love British history. I have read pretty much all of Phillipa Gregory’s novels (author of The Other Boleyn Girl) and she has done a whole series about the War of the Roses (of which Richard III is the culmination). So I like the story, which is probably more than most people can say. Three years ago I saw a production of Richard III on Broadway, starring Tony Award winner Mark Rylance and a company of actors from England, most of whom had worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company before. And I hated it. I fell asleep. I have never fallen asleep during a show before (I was pregnant, but I think I would have anyway). My main problem with the production was the choice to make Richard a comedian. Yes, there are lines in the play that can be delivered in a way that makes Richard seem funny, but he’s not funny. His entire life is devoted to getting the crown by any means necessary. I mean, he kills two young boys, his own nephews, and shows no remorse for his actions. This is not a nice guy, and certainly not someone who should be the comedic relief in a show.
I was hoping for something super evil with the ISC’s production of Richard III, but I felt they took the same direction as the Broadway production (which I would think would be a compliment). So it must be me! I want to see an evil Richard, I want to hate his guts, not be indifferent to him. I get the direction–as Matt told me, this is not a play designed to appeal only to people like me, who know and understand Shakespeare. It is a production designed for the masses, and hence needs to have some popular appeal. Because of that, I do understand the choice. It’s just not my favorite choice. I will say that the women in the show were spectacular. And this play and this production are a great representation of a sometimes debated theory: Shakespeare wrote some kick ass parts for women. They were the highlight for me, especially Margaret (whose family is killed by Edward on his way to the throne) and Anne (Richard’s wife who he ends up having killed, oh and he also killed her first husband).
Bottom line: I will continue to see and support ISC shows because I truly believe in their mission of bringing free Shakespeare to the public of LA. Even though Richard III was not my favorite production, I will continue to look forward to their future productions. I would 100% recommend seeing any ISC production if you are in the LA area and at all a Shakespeare fan.