Tuesday, January 17, 2012

“Despair and Die”

Thursday: the actors tackled the ghost scene (5.3-5), where ghosts of many Richard has murdered come back to haunt him before the Battle of Bosworth and curse him, “Despair and die.” Almost every actor in the company is in this scene, and those who aren’t are sounding the various trumpets and alarums that the text calls for, as well as paging the curtains and doors. The first thing I noticed about this scene in rehearsal is how the doubling in this production creates a visual connection for the audience of the two parties at war, the houses of York and Lancaster (and later Richmond). For example, Gregory Jon Phelps plays both Henry VI (on stage as a corpse in 1.2, as well as having played the role in last year’s Henry VI, Part 3) and Richmond, later Henry VII, serving as a physical connection between the two characters. This not only makes it easier for the audience to understand which “team” each character is on, but also demonstrates why Richmond has such an investment in killing the king, because Richard has wronged so many in his own family. Ben Curns commented that when cutting the script, he tried not to have one actor on stage as one character and then doubling as another character too soon afterwards so that the audience is always aware of who each actor is playing. These visual connections ease the audience into an understanding of the complicated familial history of these plays, even if only subconsciously.

The first major decision that the company made about this scene was how and where to pitch the tents that the texts call for. Allison Glenzer took on the role of prop master and volunteered to slit a sheet down the middle and stitch it up again to create a tent-like effect covering each of the flanking doors. Since the company has used the Lancaster and York roses throughout their productions of the history cycle, they wanted to keep this imagery for the audience. After some discussion about what Richmond’s rose should be (since he is technically not York or Lancaster), John Harrel suggested that he should have both to symbolize the unity that he brings about at the play’s conclusion, and asked me for pictures of the Tudor rose so they can replicate it (right). Props were limited and therefore symbolic on the early modern English stage, so a singular rose could easily signify the entire army of either Lancaster or York.

After figuring the props out, the company tried to block the scene, first with the ghosts walking in a circle around Richard; then by walking in a figure eight across the stage; until finally they decided upon having the ghosts enter through the trap. This solution created an eerie effect as though they were coming from the underworld back into Richard’s life. The nightmare was not over for the actors, however, as they could not decide how to get all of the ghosts off the stage after this point. Various members suggested working the exits one way or another before they decided that they group of ghosts should exit simultaneously through the discovery space. Since they did not fit linearly, they grouped together, creating a tableaux reminiscent of a family portrait; only one of the Adams family instead of the Bradys. However, this is unsettlingly fitting for the tumultuous family drama that encompasses the play and will create a wonderful dramatic conclusion.

--Amy Kenny

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