Reimagining history: New production of ‘Richard III’ revels in originality, draws inspiration from broad variety of time periods

The long road home: In preparation for holiday vacations, advice for keeping your car at its best
November 9, 2012
A Greenville standby still maintains its legendary status
November 9, 2012

Reimagining history: New production of ‘Richard III’ revels in originality, draws inspiration from broad variety of time periods

Mr. Ron Pyle plays the title role in the Classic Players’ production of Richard III, which features designs from several different historical eras. Photo: Emma Klak

The Classic Players’ production of Richard III, designed and directed by Mr. Jeff Stegall of the dramatic arts faculty, will be performed Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m. in Rodeheaver Auditorium.

Unlike his more popular plays that are often read in high school literature classes, William Shakespeare’s Richard III is a drama that students are less likely to be familiar with but which has nonetheless stood the test of time.

A tale of bitterness, hypocrisy and ambition, the play recounts the ruthless English monarch’s rise to power at the expense of many of his family and friends and anyone else who tries to get in his way.

This all-new adaptation of the classic play merges 15th century, Victorian era and modern styles, influencing costuming and set designs that are certain to intrigue modern audiences. “We sort of created a world that doesn’t really exist anywhere except for on our stage,” Mr. Stegall said.

One of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard III boasts a complicated and sometimes confusing family tree of characters, requiring the audience’s knowledge of background information to be properly understood. For that reason, Mr. Stegall condensed the script, cutting more than 40 percent of the original text and 43 characters. “It’s a play that’s haunted me for twenty years,” Mr. Stegall said. “It’s always seemed like such a difficult story to tell.”

According to Mr. Stegall, Richard III is also the most technically challenging production he has ever helped create. The stage includes 12 doors through which the characters rotate entrances and exits. “The beauty of it is that it makes for some seamless storytelling,” he said. “It’s almost like a film dissolving from one visual to the next.”

Besides the magnitude of the exquisite costume design, unique staging and complicated storyline, the production will employ special effects never before used in Rodeheaver Auditorium. Rain becomes a metaphor for Richard’s reign of terror, reinforcing the theme of the play.

With the cast comprised of about half students and half faculty and staff, the production boasts not only veteran Classic Players such as Mrs. Beneth Jones and Mr. Ron Pyle (who portrays the title character) but also students such as Anna Brown, a senior speech pedagogy major.

Despite speaking almost half of the lines in the play, Mr. Pyle said playing the role of a villain is personally not as difficult as it might seem. “We all already have some of that inside of us,” he said. “I think that it is a good thing for people to be confronted—in fiction—with evil.”

Brown plays Queen Elizabeth, the resilient wife of the former king, Henry IV. In preparation for her first Shakespearean role, Brown studied not only the history of the play but also the challenging Shakespearean language in which it is written.

She advises audience members to look at the Smart Guide for Richard III, which can be found online at bju.edu, to appreciate the play more fully. The production will also be available for viewing Friday night via webcast for alumni, family and friends unable to attend.

“You don’t want to miss out on how intense and thrilling the story is,” Brown said. “We enjoy thrilling movies; this is thrilling action happening in person right in front of you.”