Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stratford Upon Hudson

All is calm on the south side of the monument.
But walk around the thing,
and you're in the middle of the Wars of the Roses.
We all consider Labor Day to signal the end of summer (except the meteorologists, who know otherwise), and by coincidence or divine providence, my final summer project also ended with Labor Day.
Our Richard III began with a scene which is not in the play. This moment from Henry VI, Part 3, was interpolated into our production of R3, to make it clear that the Yorkists achieved the English throne through bloody actions. David DeWitt delivered a majestic deathbed speech as the last Lancaster king. While this moment clarifies how Richard's family won the throne, it also robs the audience of any surprise regarding the character of Richard.  In the first 2 minutes of the play, we know he is a cold-blooded killer, so when he orders the murder of his own brother, and his own nephews, nobody's surprised.
Richard III, about which I wrote a few weeks ago, provided the bookend to my earlier summer gig, Taming of the Shrew, which opened on Memorial Day, usually considered the beginning of summer. 
The role of Lady Anne is sometimes thought
unplayable, as it contains one of the most
outrageous reversals in the canon.
Amanda Renee Baker made
me believe it.

Other than those two gigs, not much happened in between, but I'm not complaining.  It's been years since I did two shows in a single summer, my career does not run that way, and the symmetry of opening a show on summer's opening weekend, and closing one on summer's final weekend, is kind of fun.
Hastings, Buckingham, and Rivers. No, it's not a law firm, they are all victims of our anti-hero.
Since it's so freshly minted, it's only natural that R3 is uppermost in my thoughts at the moment. 
Our dressing room was also the audience's lobby. We
dropped trou as the audience exited.

We had terrific weather for our run, interrupted only twice by rain.  Most evenings were balmy with a nice breeze coming off the river, and I was very surprised that our audiences sat still for two hours, on the hard cement steps which served as our auditorium. 

Valerie O'Hara's Duchess of York recalled the Queen Mum,
and Bruce Barton's Archbishop wins for Best Voice in Show.

We played by natural light, and when we opened a month ago, Mother Nature proved a good designer and technician. 

I was not fond of the sun setting in my face, but can't deny
it looks swell.

In those first weeks, we had a warm sunset in our faces through much of the show, and as the sun finally disappeared and darkness set in, the ghosts of Richard's victims were just coming out to haunt.  Following that scene, the big battle took place, and the play was done.
Richard is haunted by the ghosts of his victims, in a scene which is enhanced by the natural dusk.
Nick DeVita's Catesby handled several of the props which
enhanced the show, including the one and only table.
"You can't go to war without a table," he quipped.

But it's late August, so the sun's habits were changing drastically, and the last week or so, darkness set in about half-way through our performance.  Lit only by three streetlamps (one of which turned itself on and off at irregular intervals), some scenes played better than others. 
The Royals bask in sunlight which is all-too-fleeting.

This is the first year Hudson Warehouse has performed this late in the season, and we were at the mercy of the significant change in the natural light which happens in late August.  Personally, I could tell a difference in the way the Mayor's scenes, which are comedic, were playing. 
The Mayor begs Richard to assume the throne.

When there was lots of light, there were lots of laughs;  when the light was dim, so was the laughter.  (This is not news to anybody: comic moments usually come off better in bright light.)

No matter the lighting, I had a fun time with the Mayor.  Initially, I was cast only in this small role, but less than a week before we began rehearsal, the gent scheduled to play the Duke of Clarence bowed out, and I jumped at the chance to play Richard's hapless brother. 
Clarence ascends to the Tower. He won't
emerge. But I'll get a new audition piece.

I was pleased that I could play this largely dramatic role, in addition to the comical Mayor;  it gave me much more to do, and provided a nice contrast.  And Clarence's famous "dream speech," which was truncated in our production but I hope still effective, is a great audition piece for me in the future.

Before Richard III, I had performed outside only once, in a production of Much Ado About Nothing in South Carolina, many years ago. 
Ryan Ervin's Brakenbury owned those steps.

That show was also performed in a space built for non-theatrical endeavors.  It became one of the charms of our R3 that our space was not secured from outside forces. 

This sight gag was enjoyed by the first row
or two. But Vince Phillip's
ferocious performance was enjoyed by all.

Early on, we had a drunken fool interrupt a scene, and later, when our houses were quite full, I occasionally collided with an audience member during my Big Death Scene.  (That sequence became my favorite moment in the show.)
The Money Shot. Clarence's death became my favorite moment in the show. There were more gruesome murders to come. "You can't do Richard III without blood," someone said, but you actually can.  In Shakespeare's original text, only one murder occurs onstage, that of Richard himself.  All other assassinations occur off stage. Nowadays, though, we won't accept such delicacy.  We want to see all the blood and guts, which caused laundry concerns, as all the men were in business suits. The solution was to have each victim abandon his jacket for his death scene, which caused our Buckingham, Timothy Reynolds, to advise, "Keep your coat on, and you'll be safe."
Throughout our run, I was pleasantly surprised that our audiences seemed to be following the story. 

Mad Margaret, Dowager Queen of England, is sometimes removed from the show completely, as she does not serve the foreword thrust of the action (the Duchess of York is also sometimes dumped). Margie Catov's curses on the Yorks, though fierce, could not keep Drew Rosene, at left, from dozing off. He would become the uncrowned Edward V, before falling victim to his Uncle Dickie.

Matt Ebling as the young Duke of York provided some comic relief.

Shakespeare's history plays are notoriously hard for American audiences to follow, we can't tell Henry VI from Henry VII, even if the Brits can.  And the original text is Shakespeare's second longest play (right behind Hamlet), so cutting this monster down to two hours was a feat. 

George Wells as Richmond, at left, remains on the outskirts of the play for two hours, then steps up to deliver a call-to-arms which rivals Henry V's. Once everybody's dead, he will ascend the throne as that first and most buff Tudor king, Henry VII.
Our director, at right, also adapted the script. And played
the part of Lord Hastings. And is the group's
Producing Artistic Director. And he bagged all the blood.

The man with the buzz saw was our director, Nicholas Martin-Smith, who mercilessly cut the text;  he didn't bother much with maintaining the poetry, his intention seemed to be to tell the story cleanly and efficiently.  So, lots of embroidery disappeared, but as it turns out, you CAN see the forest, if you cut down enough trees.
This is the last we see of Edward IV, whose death opens the floodgates.
Myles and Ian reminded me of Cruella DeVil's henchmen,
Horace and Jasper. They enjoyed killing me
 and everyone else.

Fall will soon be upon us, and with it, my next project, yet another Shakespearean effort, which begins rehearsal in late October.  Between now and then, I'll be spending more time in my DC branch, which I have ignored through most of this Shakespearean Summer. Hmm: "My Shakespearean Summer"- could be a chapter in my memoir. Stay tuned.
The final image of R3, as the carnage of the Wars of the Roses ends. There is something very right, when scenes which Shakespeare placed outside are actually performed outside.