In an age where we still glorify our villains, William Shakespeare's Richard III's quest for ambition is so diabolical that it's hard not to empathize with the deformed king.
Theatre in the Rough co-founder Katie Jensen hopes to explore the "dark figure" in all of our souls with the story of Richard, the wicked Duke of Gloucester.
"This is about the psychology of evil, but what I'm trying to show in this is that thirst for aggression, that thirst to have a hero and that thirst to have a villian is very much in our consciousness," Jensen said. "It's happening right now, and that's one of the reasons I chose the play. Ultimately, I'm hoping that when we get to the end there's no clear delineation between who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. It's more specifically about the basic human desire to be right, and where it all falls apart is the desire to be right at all costs."
"Richard III" opens at 8 p.m. Friday, April 15, at McPhetres Hall, and plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through May 7. A free preview will be held at 8 p.m. tonight, Thusday, April 14.
Tickets are available at Hearthside Books or at the door.
The company's presentation is true to the text, with some small adaptations. The ghosts that confront Richard near the end of the play are presented as shadows, behind a white muslin gauze. Elmore and Ed Christian are trained in blade combat and have choreographed the many fight scenes. A few minor characters have been cut to compensate for the hall's small stage.
"The only thing that's maybe not straight-ahead about it is that I'm really pushing for it not to be a black-and-white play," Jensen said. "There is a gray area. There's not a good guy or a bad guy. Each one of the characters will do something that's unforgivable by our standards."
Shakespeare's story chronicles Richard's rise from deformed duke to king of England. He manipulates and murders his way to the throne, outlining his plans near the beginning of the play in the soliloquy with the famous line, "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York."
Richard, of course, quickly alienates himself. Henry Tudor organizes an army and marches to take the crown. The two sides war at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard famously says, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
Theatre in the Rough co-founder Aaron Elmore plays Richard and found the role, and the character, extremely appealing.
"The other day, Katie said that Richard is a logical man in a mad world and that's what makes him crazy," Elmore said. "I don't think Richard is evil. I think he's sinful. I think he's ambitious to a fault, and I think he's broken. He never really repairs himself, try as he might.
"Once he gets to the top, like so many who have ambition for ambition's sake, he's not really up to it," he said. "He begins to fall apart, and you can see it in the language."
This is the first of Shakespeare's history plays that Theatre in the Rough has presented since it's amalgamation of Henry IV plays in the early 1990s. The group considered "Henry V" in 2001, but opted for something more light-hearted in the wake of 9/11.
"This is a powerful propaganda play written by the winning side," Elmore said. "Richard was the last English king to die in battle, and the (Tudor dynasty) wanted to make him as nasty and as horrible as possible. So they made him practice incest, and they made him deformed with a hunchback and a stump for a leg.
Free preview: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 14.
When: opens at 8 p.m. Friday, April 15, and plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through may 7.
Where: McPhetres hall.
Tickets: Available at Hearthside Books or at the door.
"Richard was a very capable leader who happened to lose the wrong battle at the wrong moment and ended up dead," he said. "If he hadn't, its really hard to say how the shape of the world would have changed. Within three generations of Henry Tudor, who won the battle, we had Elizabeth the queen, who beat the Spanish."
Ian Andrews - Young Duke of York; Sue Wilder - Margaret of Anjou (formerly queen of England); Aaron Elmore - Richard III; Katie Jensen - Lady Anne and director; Becky Orford - Duchess of York, an assassin and a cardinal; Bill Thompson - Lord William Hastings and the assassin Tyrell; Donnie Gott - Queen Elizabeth and an assassin; Ed Christian - Duke of Clarence and Duke of Buckingham; Mike Matthews - Lord Rivers (the brother of Elizabeth) and Richmond (a.k.a. King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty); Peter Freer - King Edward IV and Lord Derby; Miguel Rohrbacher - Prince of Wales.