This section displays reviews of performances of Richard III.
Shakespeare Behind Bars’s RICHARD III
Last week, I attended the production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, KY. When I tell people about Shakespeare Behind Bars, the question they ask me most frequently is, “Are they any good?” The related questions are, “Can they put on a good show?” “Do they understand the plays?” “Do they know how to act?” The answer to all of these questions is yes. However, I want to recast these questions to two which I have rarely been asked: What is the audience experience of attending a Shakespeare Behind Bars production, and how do its productions compare to other productions I’ve seen?
The performance occurs in the prison’s chapel, which has been used for the shows since the performance of The Winter’s Tale in 2010. This is a different space from the visitors’ room, which was used for performances before 2010, including for The Tempest in the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary. The chairs have been arranged to face the front of the chapel, which can be a disadvantage to an audience member if a scene is played close to the floor. During the performance of Richard III, Richard uncovers and looks upon the corpse of the dead King Henry, all of this below the line of sight for anyone sitting beyond the second row. However, the switch to the chapel has seemed more suitable to the nature of Shakespeare Behind Bars’s work. The visitors’ room had seemed a space between the inmates and the audience, an area of intersection of our lives. In the chapel, we enter into the prison, into the area of the sacred in the inmates’ lives where the work of their souls is evident. The visitors’ room felt institutional. While the chapel is also institutional, its space is designed to be more accommodating to the encounter of players and audience.
Many Richards are most concerned for establishing their authority. Guenthner found more of the humor possible in the role, disarming the audience’s resistance to his villainy, not by winking and nodding at the audience, but by upping the outrageousness of his behavior. We are still startled with Buckingham when Richard tells him just to chop off Hastings’s head if he won’t go along with their plots. It turns macabre when Richard swings a bag with Hastings’s head around as if it were just happened to be holding while he was talking. Guenthner’s Richard knows that he operates like a villainous Falstaff.
A Shakespeare Behind Bars production makes the best of the circumstances of its space. In the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary, Ryan Graham observes that if he were playing Ariel on a professional stage, he would be attached to a wire and flown over the audience. The story presentation in Shakespeare Behind Bars productions is straightforward, not given to the idiosyncratic whimsy of the director, but to the connection to the inmates’ own lives. (1) In 2010’s production of The Winter’s Tale, the appearance of the allegorized time in the second act gave the men an opportunity to engage the audience with the time that they have served behind bars. In Richard III, Tyrell, acted by Mario Mitchell, served as Richard’s designated assassin. Productions today typically have Tyrell be one of the unnamed murderers of Clarence and of Hastings, so when Tyrell spoke killing the princes—“The tyrannous and bloody deed is done. / The most arch of piteous massacre / That ever yet this land was guilty of”—Mitchell represented a simultaneous remorse and fear of discovery of his remorse by Richard, who in his misplaced contentment would reward Tyrell for the deeds Tyrell would regret. Moments such as this are the point of connection between the plays and these performers.
Shakespeare Behind Bars productions have some innate limitations based on where they are done. The inmates must wear their costumes over their prison khakis. It is no big deal that the women roles are played by men, as we know that Shakespeare’s women roles were originally play by males. However, an audience member may have to suspend some disbelief when a Portia needs a closer shave or a Juliet is in his late 30s. The level of talent does vary somewhat within the company. Occasionally a performer will slip out of his character or rush his speech too much. However, the men work hard to choose roles that enhance their personal growth and develop their acting abilities. They rehearse around two hundred hours per play. The totality of the shows has been equal to the best productions I’ve seen of college and community theatre productions. In 2014, those who can should make every effort to attend Shakespeare Behind Bars’s next production, Much Ado about Nothing.
11:15:34 am. Categories: Stage Performances
The University of Victoria Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
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