Minds and Faces: the Excavation of Richard III

The recently discovered skeleton of Richard III

The recently discovered skeleton of Richard III, courtesy of the University of Leicester.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams.

Richard III, 1.1.16–35

So speaks Richard III, the character Shakespeare made so villainously charming, an ugly, murderous version of the modern Dr. House, perhaps, or a quasi- vegetarian version of Hannibal Lecter. Shakespeare took his descriptions of Richard III pretty directly from Sir Thomas More, who described the real-life Richard as “little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favored of visage […] he was malicious, wrathful, envious and from his birth ever froward.” But last week, from underneath a carport in England, Richard’s bones were dug up, and his skull has been reconstructed to show a comely face, quite as unfairly maligned as was, many now argue, his reputation.

The unfavorable way in which Shakespeare’s Richard depicts his own body – which, he implies, has provided a malignant template for his mind  – is underscored throughout the play by how other characters emotionally color him: a “lump of foul deformity,” a “poisonous bunchback’d toad,” an “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!” But it seems that Richard’s major problem was his misaligned shoulders, which intensified the appearance of a hunch. I believe that it is quite possible, indeed, that the real-life Richard suffered from a genetic condition called Sheuemann’s Kyphosis (which 30 per cent of people have, usually in a very mild form), or from a leg length discrepancy, which gives the shoulders a correspondingly unequal height. Any thoughts on this from the medical doctors or archeologists amongst our patrons?

Richard III was England’s monarch between 1483 and 1485, just two short years within which, it seems, his physiognomy rather than his conduct inspired the monstrous reputation that Shakespeare consolidated for him a century later. During Richard’s reign, the Wars of the Roses, the two houses of the Plantagenet dynasty battled each other (often to the death), and it was after the end of this decades-long war that it was forbidden by the laws of both Church and State to take revenge into one’s own hands. Richard instigated many liberal reforms, and yet he has gone down in history as a scheming, though humorous, devil.

“There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face,” says Duncan in Macbeth. Well, the first thing that the investigative team has done is to reconstruct the face. Let’s see how they inspire us now to reconstruct the mind behind it.

What do you think of the recent discovery? Let us know in the comments below. And now that we know what one of Shakespeare’s characters really looked like, be sure and subscribe to our 2013 season so you can get a better idea what his characters feel.

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Jim Carpenter wins Best Bay Area Actor award!

Cal Shakes Associate Artist and fellow blogger James Carpenter was just honored by the East Bay Express as part of their annual “Best of the East Bay” issue. Carpenter was lauded for—among other Bay Area portrayals—his roles in Cal Shakes’ Romeo and Juliet (Lord Capulet), Uncle Vanya (Professor Serebryakov), and Richard III (King Edward IV).

“Besides creating fully believable and affecting characters,” they write, “which in itself is no mean feat, James Carpenter can make you look at plays and speeches you might have seen a dozen times anew as if it were the first time….Sure, the play’s the thing, but to make the play all about one minor character’s tragedy for one fleeting moment is a real art.”

Read the whole thing here. And congrats, Jim!!

Pictured above: Carpenter with Julie Eccles as Lord and Lady Capulet in 2009’s Romeo and Juliet; photo by Kevin Berne.
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A little corn before your turkey, breaders?

First off, “breaders” is a term coined (we hope) by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Nancy Carlin when she was writing a production blog for the 2007 season production of Man and Superman; it’s shorthand for “blog readers.” And of course, it’s appropriate for today, the day before most of the nation stuffs themselves with starches of many stripes.

Stuffing’s my favorite.
But before I talk more about the succulent, slovenlicious joy of carbohydrates (and before I explain this entry’s opening photo) I’d like to ladle out some corn; I want to give thanks to the great actors who were onstage during my first season at Cal Shakes by showing you some stuff they’re doing right now.
Here’s Lorri Holt (Queen Elizabeth in our Richard III) and T. Edward “T. Headdy” Webster (Hastings in Richard III and Hector Malone in Man and Superman) in The Magic Theatre’s current production of The Crowd You’re in With. That photo to the left is from the SF Chronicle, whose Robert Hurwitt gave an enthusiastic review to the show earlier this week, calling Holt “invaluable” and opinig that Webster “slowly, cannily emerges as the emotional and intellectual focus of the fissures gaping ever wider beneath these characters.”
And to the left you’ll see, front and center and wielding a shield (and some serious gams), our very own Associate Artist Andy Murray in Berkeley Rep’s current prodocution of Argonautika. Andy’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, in his own way–when I was gathering updated cast and crew bios for the Man and Superman program some months ago, Andy never responded to my emails, instead calling my phone and leaving a delightfully succinct, two-sentence bio on my voicemail. So he’s especially suited for what a member of the Bullpen crew called his “star turn” in the Argonautika. I’m not sure yet what that means, but I’m going to see the play the first week of December, so I’ll let you know. I’m pretty psyched, though. The Contra Costa Times said that the “experience of seeing the show really is like going on an adventure into some uncharted theatrical territory, and returning with memories to treasure for a long time.”
Meanwhile, over at A.C.T., The Rainmaker–which, according to the San Francisco Examiner, “rocks”–is not only directed by Mark Rucker (who helmed Romeo and Juliet for us in 2001, Richard III in 2007, and will close out Cal Shakes’ 2008 season with Twelfth Night) but it features Cal Shakes Associate Artists Anthony Fusco (The Fool in King Lear) and Stephen Barker Turner (second from left in the picture to the left, and most recently seen at the Bruns in As You Like It and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby) plus, as understudies, Jud Williford (who portrayed Agis in 2007’s The Triumph of Love) and Marcia Pizzo (Berinthia in 2006’s smash hit Restoration Comedy).
OK, so we’ve got Cal Shakes actors delving into modern, character-driven new works, and other ones doing fantastic flights of fancy costumery or classic American romance … what’s left? How about a new take on a sentimental favorite? One starring a Cal Shakes MVP? (I’ll let you in on a little secret–the entire Bullpen squealed about this one earlier today, in unison. You can tell it’s finally the holidays.)
I present to you… Dan Hiatt in This Wonderful Life.
Yep, 2007 season MVP Dan Hiatt–who portrayed Buckingham in Richard III, Straker in Man and Superman, and Hermocrates in The Triumph of Love–will be starring in the one-man adaptation of It’s a Wonderful life at San Jose Rep, opening this very Saturday. Take note, mother of our resident dramaturg Laura Hope (who was famously outed as having a crush on Dan in her daughter’s Man and Superman blog): The Man with the Best Hair at Cal Shakes will be playing George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence, and even, one would assume, even Mary and little Zuzu.
This, of course, prompted Paul and I to do a resounding rendition of the old Dudley Do-Right “I can’t pay the rent! You MUST pay the rent!” skit. I have a feeling Dan will embody the multiple characters far better.
Another holiday classic opens Dec. 5 at A.C.T., this time relatively straight-up (although there is some mention of “gang this” and “gang that” in the cast): A Christmas Carol as directed by Cal Shakes Associate Artist Domenique Lozano, last seen on our stage as Leontine in The Triumph of Love. The cast is studded with Cal Shakes lights, most notably fellow Associate Artist (and devoted, prolific blogger) James Carpenter as the old crankypants himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I’m sure I could find more–Cal Shakes actors are as tireless as they are peerless. Thank you to all of you, for snoozing in the Green Room, reading my old magazines, making me laugh and gasp and think all summer long.
Oh, and about those carbs–thanks to our neighbors at Metropolis Baking, too, who gifted us with bags and bags and BAGS of bread earlier this afternoon. I snagged some sourdough for sandwiches and durum brushed with olive oil and sea salt for tomorrow’s feast. It wasn’t easy, as you can see that the competition (Jessica, Beth, and Liz in the picture at the top of this post) was tough.
Thanks everyone!! Have a great holiday.
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Maybe your curse and the farm’s curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes.

There were actual actors roaming the halls for most of last week, starting Tuesday; once I got over the shock of it, I started asking after what was going on. I mean, I love me some Dan Hiatt, Nancy Carlin, and Catherine Castellanos, but I’m not used to seeing them just ambling about during the off-season, not to mention that Catherine (who, in my humble–oops, I mean, IMHO–stole the show as Queen Margaret in Richard III this season) was doing her ambling in a full-leg cast, thanks to an injury sustained during the San Jose Rep production of The Triumph of Love.

Tuesday afternoon the following email arrived from Associate Artistic Director Joy Meads:

“As you may have noticed from the actors and playwright walking around, we are conducting our first workshop for PASTURES OF HEAVEN this week. We’ll be working on one of the stories (number 4, the turalecito story) using exercises drawn from Word For Word’s practice and inspired by the RSC’s development of Nicholas Nickleby. We’d like to invite you to drop in and observe the workshop at any point this week.”

Pastures of Heaven (or, as Joy, who has a bit of a volume control problem, puts it, PASTURES OF HEAVEN) is the latest piece our New Works/New Communities program is sinking its teeth into. With NW/NC, Cal Shakes partners up with community groups, other theater companies, and various and sundry other orgs to adapt and create new theater with roots in the classics. In 2006, we partnered with partnered with Campo Santo (the resident company at SF’s Intersection for the Arts) and playwright Naomi Iizuka to create Hamlet: Blood in the Brain; and, in 2006/2007 with playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, MFA students at A.C.T., and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco to reimagine A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Now, with playwright Octavio Solis, Word for Word Performing Arts Company, and community organizations still TBA, we’re adapting John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven.

I am using the following method. The manuscript is made up of stories, each one complete in itself, having its rise, climax and ending. Each story deals with a family or an individual. Each story deals with a family or an idividual. They are tied together by the common locality and by the contact with the [central family].

– John Steinbeck in the introduction to The Pastures of Heaven

Pastures is an anthology of interconnected stories, stories that unfold in the farming community of early twentieth-century Salinas. It is hard to imagine a collection of short fiction being easily adaptable to the stage, even a collection so interrelated by place and persons. Because short stories vary–in their main characters, and usually in their tone–from each other. And because, any time you’re adapting something written for the page to be performed on the stage, you’re dealing with exposition that was not created to be spoken. Luckily, there are things like set design, sound, lighting, and costumes to add to the conversation. And even luckier is our partnership with Word for Word, a professional ensemble whose mission is to stage short stories in their entirety., and our commissioning of Octavio Solis, who has also been working on an adaptation of Don Quixote for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

And, even luckier, perhaps, is that Pastures of Heaven features dialogue like this:

Maybe your curse and the farm’s curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes. Maybe there’ll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the pastures the first thing we know.

Oh, yeah.

But of course, the performance is still some time away, and the adaptation’s just begun. So on Friday, I sat in on a little of the workshop. And this is a little of what I saw:

Actor Dan Hiatt reading passages from a book called Grow It, by Richard W. Langer, and attempting to explain, somewhat, the difficulties of farming. (Left to right: Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, the back of playwright Octavio Solis’s head, Word for Word company member Patricia Silver, the back of Word for Word co-Artistic Director JoAnne Winter’s head, and Hiatt.)

Octavio listening intently as a workshop participant showed pictures of a 1930s-era one-room schoolhouse, while talking about how this schoolhouse would have had no segregation, and that1930 was a watershed year for educational theory, when educational conservatives and progressives squared off over who should be educated (the most gifted or the least), and how and what to teach to them.

It’s a fascinating process, and on Saturday NW/NC held rehearsals at Z Space in San Francisco. Joy told me on the phone today that “it went great!” She’s usually more verbose, but she’s otherwise occupied, having just finished her last week at Cal Shakes, and therefore being in the midst of packing for chillier climes. In fact, I shouldn’t let you think that the Pastures workshop was all that happened last week.
Because it wasn’t.

On Friday, most of us ditched work early to meet up at the Townhouse, an Emeryville bar and restaurant that (as my former coworker Vicky would say) is both hoity and toity. We drank, we ate hors d’oeuvres, and things happened.

Jon Moscone delivered a very funny, sweet toast to Joy while Daunielle moved furniture around.
Joy made a speech that I, apparently, found quite amusing.
And Cal Shakes Board Vice President Nancy Kaible presented to us a song that her daughter had written for her friends moving to Chicago, and then adapted for Joy’s going-away.
She fiddled with the wee boom box a bit, and we asked the staff to turn down the nonthreatening jazz that was playing over the Townhouse’s sound system.
And then? Well… the following is a bit unsafe for workplace consumption. Unless you work somewhere cool like Cal Shakes, that is.
And then we laughed.
And laughed, and laughed.
Joy may have even cried a little.
 
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