A tale of a tyrant
Ambition, lies, betrayal, greed – no, it’s not the evening news. It’s the timeless Shakespearean tale of tyrant King Richard III, a tale that comes to life on the Vilar Center stage Tuesday.
Performed by The Acting Company, a traveling troupe heralded as “one of this country’s most exciting, creative and impressive theater companies,” the show promises to be a great one – perhaps even fated.
“We’ve never done Richard III before,” said The Acting Company’s producing director and founder Margot Harley. “I think it’s a wonderful play, but you really couldn’t do it unless you feel you have a Richard. You can’t leave that up to chance. But we very much had an alumni in mind for the part, Spencer Aste, and he agreed.”
Harley said director Eve Shapiro’s passion for the play also drove its production.
“Eve chose this play, it was her decision to do it,” Harley said. “I wouldn’t have done it if someone hadn’t had a passion for it. And also a willingness to do it with a young company – not everyone is willing to gamble on young actors.”
But the combination of a committed director, an ideal Richard and a lot of work culminates in a fabulous performance of a timeless classic.
An accessible villain
In his quest for the crown of England, the villainous Richard sees those who stand in his way as mere obstacles to overcome. By exploit and by murder, Richard cuts a bloody path to the throne, sparing not innocent children, nor his own brother.
Even the briefest synopsis belies the heart of the tale – the sheer evil embodied by Richard. Yet director Eve Shapiro presents a slightly different take on the play’s namesake. In an effort to draw the audience into the plot and suspense of the story, she creates a Richard more accessible to viewers.
“There are certainly points in the play when I think, “My God, this man is horrible,'” said Spencer Aste, who plays the murderous Richard III. “But I think part of the brilliance of the play is that he comes across at the beginning as sort of funny and humorous.”
The opening scene establishes not only Richard’s charm and wit, but also his vulnerability. His hunched body belies his weakness – deformity – a malady which, in Shakespeare’s time, carried great social prejudice.
“The audience sees right off that he’s deformed, and this becomes a sort of rationale for his anger,” says Aste. “Viewers learn that Richard feels he was cursed from day one, looked at as a monster. And his response is to say, “if this is how society and the world is gonna look at me, this is what I’m gonna be. I will be a monster to the best of my ability.’ He sort of reclaims himself.”
By tugging on viewer’s heartstrings, Shapiro establishes a rapport of sorts between the audience and the antagonist.
“Richard really wins the audience over, they come to like him in some macabre way,” said Aste. “Because Shakespeare uses the tools of wit and pity to open them up to laughter at the beginning, he effectively opens them to responding and listening to Richard. So he can sort of creep in and relate to them.”
And though Shapiro’s slightly sympathetic take on Richard is a bit unconventional, Aste and Harley alike tout the adherence of the production to the context in which Shakespeare authored it.
“I think that part of what Eve does is that she likes to stick to the play, she wants it performed just how it’s written,” said Aste. “She’s not going to set in the future, she’s not going to make Richard George Bush. People can make the associations they want – it’s more powerful that way. If you perform it as it was written, the audience is open to looking at the universal themes that can definitely be applied to a lot of different things in our society and culture.”
According to Aste, it is just that – the timeless, universal nature of Shakespeare’s work – which has made it unvaryingly popular for centuries.
“That’s what’s so brilliant about Shakespeare, he touches on every emotion humans have,” Aste said. “Jealousy, smitten-ness, politics – every critical issue, every emotional cell that we have. He has this way of tapping into these things in this amazingly poetic way.”
“This is not a concept production, it’s very straightforward, very accessible. I recommend this play very highly.”
The Cream of the Crop
National audiences have come to expect nothing short of the very best from an acting company which has, since its inception in 1976, preened some of the greatest classical actors of the times.
Harley, along with the late John Hauseman, established the company out of the first graduating class of Juilliard’s Drama Division.
“It was a truly extraordinary class, they were very talented and very well trained, but they didn’t have an enormous amount of performance experience,” said Harley. “We decided to keep them together and to tour them because in New York couldn’t have done anything, at least not for any amount of time. Besides, the best way to develop as an actor is to tour. There is no better way to gain experience.”
And the results were astounding.
“Most of the actors that come out of The Acting Company have an exceptional work record,” said Harley. “If you’ve been in The Acting Company, you have invaluable experience. You don’t have to be concerned with your ability to do what you have to do as an actor. You know you can cope with any situation that arises.”
Another great achievement is the company’s ability to perform all over the country, bringing a level of talent to communities that don’t often see wonderful drama.
“One of the things do is to take theater to communities that don’t necessarily get it all the time,” said Aste. “We’ve performed for some small town audiences that have never seen a play – forget Shakespeare. They come up to you, amazed that they understood it. Like they thought it was going to be in Greek or something. That’s how universal Shakespeare’s work really is.”
And sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Shakespeare in American Communities, a national theater touring initiative, the Vilar Center performance promises to bring the very best to our own Beaver Creek.
The company also focuses on training children to appreciate fine acting.
“We’ve always done a lot of matinees for young audiences, we’ve always taught when on the road,” said Harley. “What we do now is send out “alumni teaching artists.’ These actors work for a week in the classrooms preparing the students in different ways for the shows. It really expands their imaginations in preparation for the show.”
So get your imagination in gear as well. The show begins at 7:30pm, with a complimentary pre-show discussion kicking off at 6:30pm. Tickets are $18 for children and $30 for adults. Call the Vilar Center for more details.