Richard III (2008)

Richard on the throne.

Originally when I had planned the first season for Single Carrot, I fantasized about performing our original sketch comedy show, which would later be called Sects and Violins, in rep with Richard III. Part of me has always dreamed of Single Carrot being a rep company, and the freedom to travel and develop work that comes with it. After my experience with The Light is Like Water where it became apparent to me that we should never, ever produce anything that wasn’t less than excellent because we felt like we should be doing more, the comedy/Shakespeare rep idea went out the window. And as I reflect on it, a possible trajectory for the company to become a touring operation went out the window with it.

At the time that I selected Richard III (the first season of Single Carrot followed a different season planning process from subsequent years), classics were an important part of my theatrical life. The bulk of my non-academic experience and thought about theatre had been consumed by Shakespeare–it was a forum I felt safe, but uncomfortable at the same time, which is where I like to live as a director. I always think about the concept that actors playing Hamlet don’t truly understand the role until they’ve played it 100 times in their second production. I love the depths of Shakespeare, and diving into Richard III was a great adventure.

We did the production with eight actors¬† — three women and five men — utilizing the entire acting ensemble and two guest artists. Richard was the only actor not to play multiple roles.

Wooing Anne.

This was the first time I worked with my sister, Lisa Jabaily, as a dramaturg. Lisa has impressive credentials, a Masters in Law at Harvard, and is six years older than me, and it was exciting to collaborate with her. She has a tremendous analytical mind and is very receptive to aesthetic needs and nuance¬† of responsibility for aesthetics and I secretly hope she’ll give up law and become a dramaturg.

Together, we decided to take an interpretive line that Richard III was Nietzschean (as opposed to a common interpretation of a more Machiavellian Richard). He has a different set of morals–much more Roman than Christian. The Nietzschean angle helps us see a Richard who does not feel guilt, is not constrained by a church, and does not actually think he’s doing anything wrong. He simply sees an opportunity, and he is in a strong position to take advantage of it, and so he does. What would make a Nietzschean Richard feel bad is that he didn’t take advantage of an opportunity. A Nietzschean Richard is alive, passionate, and at times, irrational.

Elizabeth and Anne outside the Tower.

This is in contrast to a cold, calculating, uber rational Machiavellian Richard. It is far less fun to watch and play, and also less true to the entire script to have a cold, calculating Richard building an empire. I think he is strategic in the way he gains power, but if he were truly Machiavellian, he’d have a much better game plan for once he achieved the throne. Our Nietzschean Richard gains the throne and then becomes quickly paranoid–he looses the clarity and drive he had when seeking power. A Machiavellian Richard would not kill the young princes, kill off Anne, or let Buckingham be alienated and slip away. Richard does not gain by those actions. But by seeing Richard as a Nietzschean, fiery, autocratic, irrational leader, we can begin to understand his actions.

Morally, Richard plays by entirely different rules than everyone else. He doesn’t believe in evil or sin, so he doesn’t worry about being evil or sinning, and he’s able to get the crown without the burden of bad conscience. We see this when Richard is able to lock up Clarence, to woo Anne, to eliminate Hastings, to kill the boys. He is unscrupulous. But then he has a dream. He is visited by all of the ghosts that would haunt someone with a Christian/Western set of values, and when he wakes up, burdened by conscience for the first time, and he is left terrified and powerless. For the first time, he questions if he is “evil”. But then, as he sits on the battle field lamenting his fortune, and that the sun is not out, he has an epiphany. , in Act V, Scene III, Ln 283:

A Suzuki influenced final battle sequence. Richard played a snare drum which represented his horse.

“The sun will not be seen today!

The Sky doth frown and lour upon our army:

I would these dewy tears were from the ground.

Not shine today? Why, what is that to me

More than to Richmond? For the self-same heaven

That frowns on me looks sadly upon him.”

And then the sun shines upon him–and he worries not about conscience, or if Richmond is more pure than him–and he is reconnected to his sense of self, and guilt is forgotten, and he launches into battle.

Richard III seen under is Nietschean lens, is almost a nostalgia story for the master morality (vs. slave morality as discussed in “Genealogy of Morals”). However, I don’t believe a Nietschean read on Richard III excludes the Machiavellian. The two go hand in hand even better when you view the first half of the play, Richard’s rise to power, as a case study of how to gain power in a Machiavellian sense. Then you view Richard’s fall from power as a case study in how not to rule, if your goal is to maintain power once achieved.

Bad Conscience visits Clarence, the Murderers.

We performed Richard III in a 20′ by 40′ black box space. We fit 42 chairs, and played in a long alley configuration, with two rows of audience on each of the 40′ sections, and then space to play on both of the shorter ends. We had two exits on one end of the space. The actors had essential 6′ of playing space in the center of the room. Limitation was a great aid in the piece, really forcing me to stage the work inventively in order to evoke the many worlds of the play. I was perhaps too inventive with some of my staging. One critic accused me of pulling out every trick I learned in college (which was ironic as I never studied directing in college), but his point is now well taken. More focus. It’s okay to repeat–you don’t have to shatter the world you’ve just created with each new scene. Find the unity of the staging, build a cohesive whole. It was a lot of fun, though.