Many have reinterpreted the plays of William Shakespeare, some poorly, while others create new classics from the original 16th and 17th century scripts (i.e., Romeo and Juliet reimagined as West Side Story). Sometimes a simple sex change is all it takes to breathe new life into one of Will’s ancient plays.
When I was in England years ago, I happily stumbled upon Vanessa Redgrave rehearsing at The Globe Theater to play the title role in King Lear. Her voice and regal intonations completely fulfilled the poignant depth that the character of King Lear requires.
Yes, there are many reincarnations of Shakespeare’s works, but when I heard about the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s adaptation of Richard II as a pub crawl throughout Durham — with the historical play being entirely recast as an all-female production, the setting moved to Cannes, and the time as the present day — the first thing that came to mind was “What?” But Little Green Pig has once again proven its worth in creating interesting, cutting-edge theatrical experiences for the people of Durham; and this reviewer happily followed the pub crawl experience Richie took the audience for — even though it rained throughout most of the performance.
Shakespeare wrote Richard II in 1595, and it was one of a number of historical plays that liberally fictionalized actual events. Shakespeare had an affinity for kings, although most of the kings about which he wrote were not paragons to be admired. Hamlet could not be trusted to tell the truth, Macbeth was basically a serial killer, and King Lear … well, suffice it to say he could be a poster child for Alzheimer’s.
Richard II (1367-1400) is a lesser evil compared to the aforementioned, but not by much. A poor king, he was more inclined toward poetry than managing his kingdom. He was vain and consumed by greed, he did not manage money well, and he never did gain the confidence of the people. Basically, he was a party guy.
On the other hand, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke was a great favorite of the people; and he was also not willing to go along with whatever thievery and fraudulent investments Richard dreamed up. The two battled it out for the crown, both figuratively and literally, with various family members taking sides with one or the other as Shakespeare’s play moves through its forward narrative arc.
Bolingbroke, with the commoners on his side, brings his army to Ireland and defeats Richard, who is then thrown into prison and ultimately murdered. In the final scene, King Henry shows his own true self by hypocritically donning funeral black and declaring he will visit Jerusalem to ask for forgiveness because of his part in Richard’s death.
In Little Green Pig’s iteration of the play, the characters are celebrities or stars instead of royalty, which in itself is a statement of how history has changed. The crowns now belong to those who choose to place them on themselves, begetting fame and fortune without any respect.
The women who inhabit the male roles are dressed in gaudy finery and speak with the affectations of the nouveau riche, bringing to mind the Paris Hilton type of persona, the party girl who is known only for having family money and for being at every major event, jet-setting herself and her “posse” from one gala to another. The actresses themselves embody both the Shakespearean version of the characters they play, as well as the personas most recognizable in today’s tabloids: Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Kate Moss, Madonna, and Britney Spears.
Last Saturday night, the play began at Fullsteam Brewery, with the audience holding umbrellas against the pelting rain as it was introduced to the first members of the cast: Jane Holding, playing a regal Mary-Gaunt, mother of Haley Bolingbroke (both hands theatre company co-artistic director and playwright Tamara Kissane), and a very drunk Langley York (played by Susannah Hough).
Holding has some true moments as Gaunt, particularly when the cast moves to The Bar Durham, where Mary-Gaunt predicts her own death and describes “This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise” in truly venomous tones.
As the play progresses, Mary-Gaunt’s counterpart, Langley (Hough), stays in drunken character throughout, giving credence to her sway from Richie’s “posse” to Haley Bolingbroke’s entourage. Langley is one of the few in the play who seems genuinely bothered by any backstabbing and traitorous acts the others commit. Even when waiting for the rest of the cast to arrive at another location, Hough is capable of ad-libbing, eliciting a few giggles when she suggests someone text Richie, then turning to Mary-Gaunt says, “Oh, I forgot, you don’t know how to text.”
When Richie (brilliantly and deftly played by Dana Marks, the managing director of Little Green Pig and a graduate of the American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theater Training) enters the first scene with her partying crew, it becomes obvious that the play is an even stronger statement against the hypocrisy of royalty than when Shakespeare originally wrote it. Richie, with her wild slash of orange hair and partier’s strut onto center stage, dominates each scene, even when she is not speaking.
She is more concerned with impressing her fellow partiers than with the part she plays in her relationships with her family. A simple roll of the eyes underscores some of her best lines, and the often complicated Shakespearean dialogue comes naturally to Marks, who provides just enough Valley Girl cadence to her speech to show how little Richie respects even her own power within the “ruling structure.”
Like her original male counterpart, Richie is a lackadaisical ruler, even when handing her own crown to Haley Bolingbroke in the play’s latter scenes. She laughs at herself often, taking neither her own personality nor her status within her country seriously. It is only when faced with her own mortality that her celebrity nature takes a backseat and her queenly nature comes forward.
Her final soliloquy is truly moving, particularly because she looks up at the audience from the base of the skateboarding pit in Durham Central Park. It is an eerie, powerful scene and when she states, “I wasted time and now doth time waste me,” the pain in her face and the shadows under her eyes make her resemble the jailed Lindsey Lohan, defeated and bruised.
The rest of the cast holds its own in this challenging play with notable scenes ruled by Finchy Aumerle (played as a pregnant child by Flynt Burton), The Bishop (played by Durham playwright Monica Byrne), and Tina Mowbray (played by Lakeisha Coffey). Each steals a scene when onstage, even if just casting asides toward the audience.
Many of the actresses are local, several are graduates of Duke University’s and N.C. Central University’s drama programs, and a number of them have extensive and impressive acting credits. The troupe is well chosen, and not one actress misses a beat throughout the many changes of venue and challenges with the evening’s rain.
When the story ends and the audience finds itself in the middle of Durham Central Park — having traveled from Fullstream Brewery to Motorco Music Hall, then up the street to The Bar Durham and Kotuku Surf Club, then around the corner to Geer St. Beer Garden — it truly feels like the audience members have made the journey from one battlefield to another, both physically and spiritually, and from one party scene to another, as this group of female troubadours would insist.
Richie is a play that demands as much from its audience as it gives, but the pub crawl (even through sudden downpours of rain) is worth it, and the audience themselves were troupers. Shakespeare would have happily traveled along with us through the streets of downtown Durham to see his tale transformed into this celebrity all-nighter.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s Richie: A Rolling Pub Crawl Based on Shakespeare’s Richard II will continue to bar-hop up and down Rigsbee Ave. and Foster Street in Durham on Thursday-Saturday nights through Sept. 22nd. To join the rolling pub crawl, meet the “celebrities” at 7:30 p.m. at Fullsteam Brewery at 726 Rigsbee Ave.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents RICHIE: A Rolling Pub Crawl Based on Shakespeare’s RICHARD II at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13-15 and 20-22, starting at Fullsteam Brewery, 726 Rigsbee Ave., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $15 ($5 students and $10 seniors and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-452-2304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Nick Karner): http://vimeo.com/48418548.
INITIAL VENUE: http://www.fullsteam.ag/.
Richard II (play): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_II_(play) (Wikipedia).
Richard II (e-text): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2250 (Project Gutenberg).
Richard II (king): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_II (Wikipedia).
William Shakespeare: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council.
This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.