KINGSTON, R.I. — Feb. 13, 2020 — In one week, the curtain will go up on the University of Rhode Island’s first theater production of the semester, “Richard III,” which has been transformed from Shakespeare’s second longest play into a 90-minute, fast-paced, action drama.
Written in 1593, “Richard III” follows the journey of King Richard III of England’s rise to power. Richard will stop at nothing to take the throne from his brother Edward IV. Richard manipulates his brother’s widow, Lady Anne, into marrying him, and has his older brother, Clarence, executed, only to shift the blame on to Edward. Edward is already dealing with great sickness, and this only accelerates his death. After Richard takes the throne, he murders any of the noblemen who are loyal to Lady Anne and sends his brothers’ children to the tower, where they are executed. The people of England are enveloped in fear, and in France, the Earl of Richmond is preparing to invade England.
The play is being directed by Joe and Josh Short, brothers and URI alumni. Joe Short works full-time at Harvard University as a theater technician and director, and Josh Short is the founder of The Wilbury Theatre in Providence.
“One of the terrific things about acting with Shakespeare, is that it’s very easy to deepen into the work and get even more connected to the text as you say these beautiful and profound lines,” said Joe Short. “It was fun watching the students fall in love with Shakespeare.”
To make the play appeal to a modern audience, the brothers collaborated with students to combine characters, eliminate scenes and incorporate music and dance.
“We live in a much more fast-paced and visual world, and we have to make sure we are speaking to the audience in a way that everyone will understand,” Joe Short said. “All we are doing is picking up where Shakespeare left off, and we need to tell the story in a way that makes it easy for everyone to get onboard.”
Richard’s rise to power in the play displays a great deal of vanity and ambition, which can be reflected around the world today, Joe Short said.
“Here we are today in 2020 and we’re seeing a rise in right-wing authoritarian, fascist governments across the world,” he said. “Shakespeare painted Richard as a tyrant and one question we’re trying to explore is, ‘What is the environment that we condone, support, and invite such leaders to come into power?’”
Richard is being played by Matt Oxley ‘21, who is majoring in math and theatre with a design concentration. This is Oxley’s first mainstage role, and one that has proven to be quite difficult. Richard is on stage almost the entire time, forcing Oxley to memorize a significant number of lines.
“There’s a lot of characters, a lot of events to keep track of and it’s put together in a way that goes by very, very fast,” said Oxley. “The events of the show go so quickly. It’s been tough to keep up but at the same time it’s energizing.”
Oxley explained that he and the other actors have spent a great deal of time on tablework, sitting down and reworking the script as an entire group. He also has to remember to carry himself a certain way throughout rehearsal because of his character is a hunchback.
One of Oxley’s favorite traits in Richard’s character is his complexity and his ability to manipulate others and play games with them.
“Richard is such an interesting character in that he’s one of the few Shakespeare protagonists who is a villain,” Oxley said. “He offers a lot of play in a show where he’s constantly putting on a mask. So, I’m acting as Richard who’s acting as someone else with every interaction he has, and that’s just super exciting to me.”
The production also has an array of strong female roles. Mary Mullane ’21 will be playing Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York. Mullane is a theater major with an acting concentration, and made it to the finals of the Irene Ryan Scholarship auditions at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival a few weeks ago.
This is Mullane’s first Shakespeare production, and she was originally nervous about being able to accurately convey the powerful sense her character holds.
“She’s not on the stage for a great amount of time, but all of her scenes have this powerful aura so I’m very excited to tackle that,” Mullane said. “I’ve never played an older, powerful woman before and I think her story is beautiful and powerful. I’m excited for people to see this. She is really one of the only people who wins over Richard.”
In order to properly portray the role, Mullane said she completed a lot of research on powerful women. However, once she is in costume, Mullane has no doubt that it will be easier to be as powerful and as strong as the role requires.
“Richard III” runs Feb. 20-22 and 27-29 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 23 and March 1 at 2 p.m. in J Studio at the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston Campus. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors and URI students, faculty and staff. Click here for tickets or call the box office at (401) 874-5843.
Character, actor, hometown (in order of appearance):
Young Prince, Paige Barlow
Richmond, Bishop of Ely, Citizen 1, Murderer 2, Connor Delaney
Richard III, Matthew Oxley, Narragansett
King Edward IV, Earl of Oxford, Joshua Raymo, Portsmouth
Duke of Buckingham, Lily Ferreira, Middletown
Queen Elizabeth, Lorraine Guerra, Cranston
Duchess of York, Duchess of Norfolk, Mary Mullane, Warwick
Lady Anne, Erin McGowan, Zionsville, Pennsylvania
Duke of Clarence, Magenta Kolakowski, Riverside
Lord Stanley, Muderer 1, Archbishop, David J. Richards, Newport
Lord Hastings, Sir James Blunt, Messenger 2, Citizen 3, Trey DeAngelo DiGioia, Warren
Earl Rivers, Lord Mayor, Messenger 1, Aidan Costa, Middletown
Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Brackenbury, Messenger 2, Alana Parrott, Webster, Massachusetts
Scrivener, Sir Christopher, Lord Grey, Citizen 1, Omar Laguerre-Lewis, Mamaroneck, New York
Sir Catesby, Shannon Donnelly, North Providence
Ian Weiner, a senior journalism major and intern in the Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this story.