category: full length one act
genre: horror-comedy/Shakespeare adaptation
running time: seventy minutes
setting: various places around England
period: medieval England
Dick, Duke of Glouchester, later King Richard III of England
Edward, his older brother, king of England
George, their younger brother, Duke of Clarence
Elizabeth, Edward’s wife and mother of his children
Rivers, her brother
Margaret, the former Queen of England, widow of Henry VI
Anne, widow of Prince Edward, later wife of Richard III
Buck, a murderer, reluctant
Ham, a murderer, joyful
In medieval England, evil Duke Dick plots the murders of his brother, King Edward, and their younger brother, George of Clarence, so that he can ascend the throne. Edward’s rule is already precarious, having seized the throne via battle with the dead king, Henry, whose wife Margaret roams the countryside prophesying doom and destruction on all who brought about the end of her husband’s reign. Dick successfully tricks Clarence into being executed, by Buck and Ham, on Edward’s order, albeit unknowingly, so that when Edward learns of the news he dies from a heart attack. Next Dick takes Edward’s sons hostage, despite the protests of Edward’s widow, Elizabeth, and Dick’s own wife, the Lady Anne. Elizabeth’s brother, Rivers, attempts to win the children back but is murdered by Buck and Ham, who are then commanded to kill the children. Ham agrees and has them smothered, but Buck, disgusted by the crime, defects and defends Elizabeth and her daughter, now alone since Anne has also been murdered, from Dick and Ham’s machinations. Ham is killed, and Dick is eventually torn to pieces by the ghosts of all his victims. Elizabeth is crowned Queen of England.
Dick 3 was developed for Theater Pub’s annual “classic”, and it is designed to be done in a low-to-no tech environment where performers and text alone must capture and retain the attention of the audience. That said, like any severely cut Shakespeare text, it eventually changed so much that it became almost an entirely different script (though most of the language is Shakespeare’s), and knowing it would become thus, I approached the cut conceptually, and worked to make the play even less history than it already was, and closer in pace and storytelling to a slasher film. The result is that a murder happens almost every ten minutes, and the politics and intrigue of the original play are almost entirely gone, to be replaced by passion and action and not much else- though some of the best elements of the play (namely Richard and Clarence’s big speeches, and the scenes between Anne and Richard and Elizabeth and Richard) remain largely in tact. The biggest changes plot-wise would be the complete cutting of the Richmond subplot, with Elizabeth ending up Queen of England rather than an outsider assuming the throne at the end. Like Boar’s Head before it, Dick 3 also resulted in the creation of a “new” character, or in this case two, out of the combination and cutting of several other characters. Buck and Ham, named for Buckingham (who they replace, along with Tyrell, the Murderers, and several minor messengers and servants), were developed especially for comic actors Sam Bertken and Allison Page, and Buck is now the sort of anti-hero of the play, with his own arc and journey to parallel Richard and Elizabeth’s. His final show-down with Dick should be played, along with much of the play, for laughs, and the piece benefits from a kind of drunken, wink-wink aesthetic. In the original production we used squeaky-toy stuffed bears to represent the princes, and had Buck strangle Rivers while riding his back, his victim attempting to dislodge him by smashing him into a support beam repeatedly, while the dead at the end all wore mirrored sunglasses and Dick’s repentance speech was played as the actor stalling his death scene while the other actors impatiently waited for him to continue. The truth is, Shakespeare’s original play was very much a black comedy, and Dick 3, for all its cuts, attempts to recapture that and rediscover why this huge, hulking play retains such a magnetic hold on modern audiences.
San Francisco Theater Pub, October 19, 20, 26, and 27, 2015 at PianoFight in San Francisco, California. Directed by Stuart Bousel. Cast: Paul Jennings (Dick), Carl Lucania (Edward), Brian Martin (Clarence), Megan Briggs (Elizabeth), Will Leschber (Rivers), Jessica Rudholm (Margaret), Jeunee Simon (Anne), Sam Bertken (Buck), Allison Page (Ham).