Sarah-Jane Stratford on the layered, complex history of Richard III.
On September 12, 2012, a skeleton was found buried beneath a Leicester car park, where a church once stood. The historical record shows that the bones might be those of the long-lost Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England and one of history’s most spine-chilling villains.
Plenty of people are quick to avow that the hump-backed, cold-blooded Richard III lied, connived, and murdered his way to the throne. He had no compunction about murdering his brother, seducing the widow of a man he’d just killed solely to marry her for political gain and “not keep her long,” and, just for good measure, imprisoning and ordering the deaths of his two young nephews—the rightful heirs to the throne.
There’s just one problem with this story. It is not history; it’s Shakespeare. The play Richard III was written in approximately 1591, more than 100 years since the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by the salacious history written by Sir Thomas More in the shaping of his vision of Richard, and the resultant work is one of the most spellbinding dramas in Western theater.
Read an exclusive preview from BOMB 122. Theater group Rude Mechanicals show Dionysus in 69 is at New York Live Arts through November 10.
The following conversation happened on the eve of the Rude Mechs’ New York tour. It is pieced together from many fragments: emails, poorly recorded phone calls, and letters exchanged through the mail (remember that?). The conversation is not linear and reflects the compositional process more or less characteristic of Radiohole and the Rude Mechanicals. By the time you read this, the Rude Mechs will have brought their re-construction of the Performance Group’s Dionysus in 69 to New York Live Arts. We hope you will have experienced it and that this conversation might retrospectively bring new insight into that experience.
Good Morning Eric,
I hope this letter finds you well, it’s a nice morning in Austin. I just fed the chickens, watered and weeded the garden. The signs of seeds planted last week are just starting to show. The lima bean sprouts and provider bean sprouts are curling up out of the soil. I’m sitting, looking out the window drinking a hot cup of coffee and eating a big bowl of granola and yogurt. . .
PS This letter isn’t real. I’m not sitting at a window. I don’t even have chickens. The handwriting changes so much because several people, I won’t say who, have been passing around this paper, adding to a fiction.
The writing is on the wall in Annie Baker’s reimagining of Uncle Vanya at the Soho Rep.
We pretend we’re older now, more mature; we’ve dressed up for the theatre and afterwards we will wax eloquent about our experience. We’ll wear our eyeglasses on the ends of our noses as we say, “Michael Shannon made me quiver, the carpet hairs beneath me raised, and my shoulders hunched with his. But Sonya, her intonation was the same, some bits worked, but there was something missing, you know?” In all our “lame rhetoric, lazy morality and pretentious arguments,” we’d lose sight of the concrete that burned below us, and those that were as yet huddled inside their offices, because they couldn’t afford the privilege of conversation, because they had to survive.
We become those characters that Uncle Vanya despises. In our self-awareness of this state, we become Uncle Vanya himself. This complicity is thrust upon us in Annie Baker and Sam Gold’s collaboration of a new, more “now,” Uncle Vanya. We step into not a theatre, but a living room, and are seated on carpeted bleachers around the stage. We’re part of the game of the back and forth offense and defense, of the power struggles and the tensions that maneuver these characters into each others’ orbits, and that drive them astray.
Alex Zafiris talks to theater director, writer and media designer Jay Scheib about his recent play, World of Wires, which closes his trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems.
In Jay Scheib’s new play, World of Wires, a computer simulation mirrors the world as we know it, prompting the question: are we the actual world, or an immaculate reproduction of one? Adapted from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 television series, Welt am Draht—itself adapted from Daniel F. Galouye’s 1962 science-fiction novel, Simulacron-3—Scheib creates, with live performance, a virtual consciousness to investigate what is, and what might not be.
World of Wires is the third part of a trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems. First was 2008’s Untitled Mars (This Title May Change), based on real-life space simulator pods inhabited by hopeful Mars visitors, together with the ideas of Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and Kurd Lasewitz; then last year’s Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, an adaptation of Samuel R. Delany’s overwhelming science-fiction novel, Dhalgren. All three were developed during Scheib’s current residency as Professor for Music and Theater Arts at MIT, where, in contact with a world completely different to that of his own, his perception of realities, and ways in which to think about them, was stretched. The plays are captivating. Fear, delirium, humor, sex, love and hate are magnified, like dream states. Meaning and context shift, and truth runs amok. Conflict thrashes itself out within this battleground, pushing and shoving between balance and tension. Throughout all of it, humanity persists. Cameras are positioned on stage to project live video, bringing more perspective to the set and ultimately, towards the final argument. For this new production, Scheib will be on stage, as director, with a handheld camera, capturing the action, even giving direction.
In The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, the New York Neo-Futurists take stage directions to their illogical conclusion.
Stage directions, those snarky little lines of italics that punctuate the pages of scripts, are one of the great mysteries of play-writing and performance. “Do it this way!,” they say, but do they speak in whispers or shouts? Suggestions or commands? Are they sly or belligerent or guiding or cryptic? Samuel Beckett expected his stage directions to be followed fastidiously; the penalty for taking creative liberties with a Beckett instruction was the quick death of the show (and the Beckett Estate is still making executions, lest you were considering getting interpretive with Krapp’s Last Tape).
Sarah Ruhl, meanwhile, writes her stage directions in the form of intractable riddles. Actors and directors must grapple with instructions like, “Mrs. Daldry’s first orgasm could be very quiet, organic, awkward, primal. Or very clinical. Or embarrassingly natural. But whatever it is, it should not be a cliché, a camp version of how we expect all women sound when they orgasm.” Parsing that is like trying puzzle together a couch from IKEA: are those legs or arms or cushions or . . . ?
What is particularly frustrating about stage directions—or particularly reassuring, depending on your style—is that they don’t quite know when to let it go. They are embedded in an art form that is, by its very nature, deviant and uncontainable. And yet, they continue to exert themselves, blustering about props, gestures, noises, emotional responses—as if they know what’s going on up there.
It is the mission of The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, Volume One: Early Plays/Lost Plays to put these overbearing italics in their place. Or, perhaps less venomously, to at once honor and poke fun at O’Neill, the very serious patriarch of modern stage directions.
Hadley Roach attends the PS122 Launch Party on the Gawker rooftop to preview the real and imagined treats of the 2011–2012 season.
At the PS122 Launch Party, waiters wearing purple lipstick and complex shoes navigated the Gawker rooftop and offered guests hors d’oeuvres: “Would you like to do a line of cocaine?” The silver trays they extended were empty, but that didn’t prevent the evening’s many guests of honor—seasoned theater-folk—from gamely accepting the invisible, improvisational invitation. They took leave of their (real) miniature hamburgers and cocktails to get a rush of experimental theater.
The evening was curated by the design team PRAXIS and featured mash-ups by DJ Idlewild. Mark Mann snapped portraits of guests while a cool, end-of-summer darkness fell around the party. And a silent auction and raffles for t-shirts and tickets provided a glimpse into the coming months at Performance Space 122.
Emerald Pellot speaks with playwright Mariah MacCarthy about the writer’s latest play: Ampersand: A Romeo and Juliet Story, part of FringeNYC.
Emerald Pellot The most obvious question is why Romeo and Juliet and why lesbians? They’re both intentional choices on your part, what meaning did you intend to convey with a lesbian couple and why Romeo and Juliet, over let’s say, Othello?
Mariah MacCarthy Hmm, interesting that you think this is the most obvious question! (Also, now you’ve got my brain cooking on a lesbian adaptation of Othello—that would be baller.) But I digress. The germ for this idea came about six years ago; in a directing class, we had to each pitch a “spin” on a particular Shakespeare play, and a friend of mine pitched a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a girl as Romeo (changing the gender of the role, not just the actor). It stuck with me. Romeo and Juliet is all about who you’re “allowed” to love, which becomes much more poignant to me when it’s two women.
I write about sex, especially queer sex, a lot. An actor from Ampersand remarked the other day that a lot of my work is “about straight people not being straight.” If you want queer sex, at some point you’ve probably heard that you were a bad person for wanting the sex you want, which creates a dramatic conflict for you. Plus, girl-on-girl action onstage makes me happy, and writing what makes me happy is the only way I know how to work.