Stepping Out

'Richard III Revisited

Hofstra Shakespeare Festival stages the mesmerizing tale

Posted

“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Heed the call when Richard III, Shakespeare’s most diabolical villain gallops onto Hofstra University Globe State for the 70th edition of the annual Shakespeare Festival. Believed to be one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, “Richard III” tells the story of Richard of Gloucester, a deformed nobleman who launches a bloody power grab for the throne of England.

“Richard uses deception and villainy to take the throne,” says director Jean Dobie Giebel. “Choosing such a dark path to power ultimately leads to his own downfall.”

But not before plenty of action and more than a few laughs. “It’s a tragedy but also very entertaining with moments of comedy and a big choreographed battle scene. It’s really a monster of a play,” Giebel says.

With its twisted villain, lies, betrayal, murder and more murder (not to mention some fancy outfits), the play has some of the same juicy themes as an episode of reality TV (minus the murder, of course).

Yet many modern audiences aren’t quite convinced they’ll like Shakespeare. Giebel thinks she knows why. “So many people are introduced to Shakespeare by reading his plays in high school,” she says, “But Shakespeare is meant to be heard, not read. Once you actually hear his words spoken out loud in verse, the story really shines through.”

Shakespeare’s original text is chock full of characters — over 40 in all. The Hofstra production trims that down to 32, still quite a large cast. Senior Scott Mathews, a BFA Performance major at Hofstra, stars as Richard III. “He’s quite talented and has a good bit of Shakespeare training,” says Geibel. “He interned at the Shakespeare Commonwealth Company in Boston.”

The cast also features several local student performers. Brandon Dubuisson, from Baldwin, plays Sir William Catesby; Seaford’s Christopher Ho appears as Sir Walter Herbert; Rosie Loiacono, of East Meadow, is cast as the Duchess of York, the compassionate aunt of the cruel, murderous Richard. Also Wantagh’s Judy Streib, plays the complex role of Queen Margaret.

“This play has some of the most powerful female characters Shakespeare ever wrote,” says Geibel. “It’s interesting to see how they address male dominance and power, especially Margaret who is a dark character herself. She’s been totally disenfranchised.”

To be sure “Richard III” is a dark play, but the Hofstra production strives to bring a greater understanding to the character as well.

“Usually Richard is played as a sociopath — I find that two-dimensional,” says Geibel. “I wanted to see more depth. But the play is not written that way so we had to find moments in the production to show Richard’s humanity.”

One of those moments comes during the opening soliloquy when Richard talks about peacetime courtly behavior, which he can’t participate in because of his deformity. “So I think it’s interesting to start with a dance so we see the kind of things he can’t participate in,” says Geibel. “It’s a poignant moment.”

“Richard III” was last performed at Hofstra in 1972. All involved in the current production are excited that after such a long absence, this new production will be performed in Hofstra’s exacting replica of London’s Globe Theater (where many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed during his lifetime).

Opened in 2017, the Hofstra Globe is considered the most authentic recreation of Shakespeare’s original theater in the U.K. In fact, Hofstra Drama Professor David Henderson, who designed the reconstruction, spent time there consulting with the archivists and design staff of the London Globe. He was even given a rare opportunity to study the original plans.

“The Hofstra Globe Stage gives us an opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s plays the way they were originally presented,” says Professor Christopher Dippel, who directed 2016’s production of “Hamlet.” “The stage helps us to understand how the stories were told and look at some of the challenges Shakespeare’s company was wrestling with. For example, [the students] learn how long it takes to go from the Lords Gallery upstairs down to the stage. That is why certain scenes have an extended ending — because one character has to exit and then enter immediately afterward. There are so many discoveries you make working on a stage like this.”

This is the first time Giebel is working on the re-designed Globe stage, a prospect she finds exciting and, a times, a little daunting. “The old Globe stage was, in some ways, easier because of its configuration. The new Globe reflects the Elizabethan emphasis on a rhetorical style of acting.” 

“While the Globe creates a beautiful picture, the architecture can make movement challenging. “This is particularly true during the Battle of Bosworth Field, which was choreographed by Associate Professor Robert Westley (who was part of the creative team behind Broadway’s “A Bronx Tale”). Collaborating on that battle [with Westley, Arthur Solari, who created original music for the production, Costume Designer Meredith Van Scoy and Lighting Designer Brian Canese] has been exciting.” 

Richard III

When: Friday and Saturday, March 8-9, 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 10, 2 p.m. $10, $8 seniors.

Where: John Cranford Adams Playhouse, South Campus, Hempstead.

(516) 463-6644 or www.hofstratickets.com.