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"Determined to prove a villain": Shakespeare's "Richard III" takes the stage Friday, Saturday
"Determined to prove a villain": Shakespeare's "Richard III" takes the stage Friday, Saturday

A severed head. A bleeding corpse. A drowning in a wine barrel.

No, that's not a teaser for a horror movie coming to a cinema near you just in time for Halloween — it's a partial body count in William Shakespeare's "Richard III," coming to Ravenscroft ... just in time for Halloween. Performances take place Friday, Oct. 27, and Saturday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in Jones Theatre. Admission is free.

"Richard III" is one of Shakespeare's 10 plays based on the ongoing (and very bloody) game of thrones played by England's most powerful families — sometimes among members of the same house — in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Greed, corruption and violence propel the stories forward in ways you don't have to be an Elizabethan scholar to understand.

Enjoy this "Richard III" trailer, filmed and edited by Martina Frederick '20 and featuring Shaurik Despande '20.

As Middle and Upper School Drama Director Jason Sharp explained, "All Shakespearean histories have a similar plot: we start with a king, witness the plot to overthrow him, then see him overthrown and a new king take his place. But we also see mechanisms put in motion that will eventually overthrow the new king as well."

To underscore this sense that, as Sharp said, "we're all part of this machine, with gears turning that we can't control," the set design and costumes reflect a steampunk aesthetic — anachronistic technology blended with historical elements to evoke a sense of alternate reality.

Ravenscroft's production features Matt Sheaffer '18 as Richard, a character so blighted by malevolence that Shakespeare portrays him as hunchbacked. Margaret Russell '20 plays Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI (whom Richard and his kin have overthrown and executed) who takes furious curses to a whole new level. Zoe Nagel '19 is Queen Elizabeth, wife to Richard's brother (and king) Edward IV and mother to the two young princes who stand between Richard and the throne he covets.

Sheaffer is thrilled at playing the unrepentantly evil Richard. "In so many plays, the protagonist is with the audience, and the villain is set apart, his intentions unknown," he said. "But Richard, who is the villain, is the one with the audience, telling them what terrible things he's going to do. And then he does them. He's always three steps ahead of everyone else. That makes it interesting for me as an actor."

As Sharp began preparing for "Richard III" last spring, he enlisted Upper School English teacher Joel Karpowitz to help adapt the voluminous script and prepare the cast to bring Shakespeare's dialogue — written in verse form and peppered with archaic phrases and often-confusing character appellations — to life. Karpowitz's advice to Shakespeare newbies: trust the cast to make the story accessible and relevant.

"These plays live on because Shakespeare captured something about the human experience that still rings true today: what it feels like to fall in love, how it hurts to be betrayed, what it feels like to be an outsider," he said. "Find the human motive and dynamic underneath the surface. The actors do a great job helping with this."

Nicole Mason '19, whose costume sketches for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" won top honors at the International Thespian Society (ITS) Festival last year, was costume designer for this production. George Labusohr '10 served as fight coordinator.

Upper School students and staff may have noticed unusual goings-on in anticipation of the play's opening. Monday was Hedgehog Day (inspired by an insult Lady Anne hurls at Richard); Tuesday was Dialect Day; Wednesday is Set Reveal Day; and Thursday is Black-Out Day.

Theater-goers will enjoy videos, made by Karpowitz's students, that provide a primer on the War of the Roses, the long struggle between the Yorks and the Lancasters for control of the English crown. Hot cider and snacks will be served before the show on opening night. Be sure to be seated by 6:50.