DramaWatch: High-school drama of historical dimensions

Artists Rep takes Shakespeare back to school with the "Richard III" adaptation "Teenage Dick"; plus, a shortlist of Second Season shows.

Richard of Gloucester was a dick.

At least that’s impression we’re given by Shakespeare in his history play Richard III, in which this man (among many) who would be king is presented as deformed, less so for his hunchback than for his moral turpitude. Shakespeare wrote his account more than a century after Richard’s death, and some historians contend that his nasty portrait of the last Plantagenet king was propaganda on behalf of the Tudor dynasty that followed Richard. (For example, the king’s long-lost remains were found in 2012 and suggest that he was short and had one shoulder slightly higher than the other, but no hunchback.) Even so, the seething, conniving Richard of Shakespeare dominates his public image still.

And anyway, these days we might certainly call him a Dick.

If he was a modern American 17-year-old, he’d be, of course, a teenage Dick.

Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick — which premiered last year at the Public Theater and which opens Saturday at

Christopher Imbrosciano plays Richard Gloucester — a high school stand-in for Shakespeare’s Richard III — in “Teenage Dick” at Artists Rep. Photo: David Kinder.

Artists Rep in a production directed by Josh Hecht — re-imagines Shakespeare’s tale of England’s contested monarchy during the 15th-century War of the Roses as high school high drama with the high stakes of the senior class presidency. It’s a loose adaptation, trading on the basic premise of an outsider’s manipulative bid for power. The intricacies of relations and animosities between the House of York and the House of Lancaster give way to a cast of six and a simple division between familiar classes of popular and unpopular kids. And, whereas lots of Shakespeare adaptations are larded with Bard-lover in-jokes, Lew relies more on his Richard Gloucester’s penchant for ridiculously high-flown language (he’ll use a $10 word such as “tenebrosity” in the same speech he’ll say “apeshit”).

On paper, at least, it’s at once refreshingly funny and suitably tragic.

Along with the expected inquiry about ambition, power, loyalty, ethics and such, Lew is interested in the social dynamics of disability. As Shakespeare’s Richard has a hunchback, so Lew’s Richard has cerebral palsy, and each seems fueled in part by bitterness about his condition — not just the way appearances have made him an outcast but the way disability has alienated him from his own body.

Taking the title role will be Christopher Imbrosciano, whose credits include productions Off-Broadway and in London’s West End, and who performed alongside Hecht several years ago in Ping Chong & Company’s Inside/Out…voices from the disability community. Tess Raunig, a teaching artist at PHAME, plays Richard’s on/off ally Buck (a very rough stand-in for the Duke of Buckingham). The production also features Kailey Rhodes as Anne Margaret (the name referencing two Lancastrian women, Lady Anne Neville and Queen Margaret), Ayanna Berkshire as the teacher Elizabeth York, Nick Ferucci as Richard’s jock nemesis Eddie, and Alex Ramirez de Cruz as Clarissa, who alternates between rival and accomplice.

Also opening

Blending Salvadoran folklore and the true story of Ximoara Torres, an undocumented immigrant and foster child who grew up to become a judge in Oregon’s Multnomah County, playwright Milta Ortiz creates Judge Torres, a modern fairytale of perseverance and purpose. Mandana Khoshnevisan directs the world premiere for Milagro.

Second season shortlist

Now that we’ve survived another winter holiday gauntlet, we can get back to a more normal rhythm and texture in our theater watching. What follows — for your life-planning pleasure — is an entirely subjective list of the most intriguing productions coming our way in the next several months:

Fertile Ground In its 10th year, the annual festival of homegrown theater (and assorted other performance forms) offers so many options at such low cost that there’s just nothing to do except dive in.

A Doll’s House, Part 2  Instead of rewriting/adapting an historical touchstone, Lucas Hnath goes the sequel route, revisiting key characters and relationships from Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic. Linda Alper and Michael Mendelson star, and that can’t be bad.

Come From Away This touring Broadway musical by Tony nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein focuses on a small town in Newfoundland suddenly beset with 7,000  air travelers re-routed and stranded by the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “Canadian hospitality doesn’t seem like grist for drama,” wrote The New Yorker, “but this gem of a musical…makes kindness sing and soar.”

Tiny Beautiful Things Oscar nominee Nia Vardalos adapts Cheryl Strayed’s book from her experience writing the popular advice column “Dear Sugar.”

Oregon Shakespeare Festival  Far from just the country’s greatest temple of Shakespeare in the American vernacular, OSF offers a diverse opening set of shows to the season, including the musical Hairspray, Cambodian Rock Band (a family-history story built around the music of the innovative Dengue Fever), the John Steinbeck-inspired Mother Road (written by Southern Oregon playwright Octavio Solis), and — oh, yeah — the sparkling Shakespeare comedy As You Like It.

Arlington [a love story] Third Rail Rep returns to the work of the riveting Irish playwright Enda Walsh with this story set in a bland prison in some blandly menacing dystopia, exploring relationships in unlikely places.

Until the Flood In what sounds promisingly similar in approach to Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror (which Artists Rep staged in October), Dael Orlandersmith draws on extensive interviews with residents of Ferguson, Missouri to delve into the social unrest leading to and following the shooting of Michael Brown.

The Breath of Life Two of Portland’s most formidable actors, Sharonlee McLean and Gretchen Corbett, face off as the wife and the other woman in a drama by the great British playwright David Hare.

Into the Woods It’s by Stephen Sondheim. OK, if that’s not enough (it should be), this production will be directed by Jessica Wallenfels, long a creative contributor to Northwest theater but really branching out lately as a director.

Crazy Enough Singer (turned actor, turned writer) Storm Large’s eight-mile-wide autobiographical theatrical breakthrough from a decade ago returns for a brief anniversary engagement.

Best line I read this week (well…recently enough)

“CHRISTMAS: To prepare our homes for this day, we put small, colorful offerings underneath a large tree not native to this region. We tell children that an old man who has been watching us all year is responsible for these packages. The day is ostensibly to honor a baby with superpowers, but it’s rude to ask too many follow-up questions about the baby, because he died.

…NEW YEAR’S EVE: ” Human life is terribly short, so on this day we celebrate staving off death for another revolution around the sun. Lots of people smash their mouths together and drink poison.”

— from “Explaining U.S. Holidays to Extraterrestrials,” by Alexis Wilkinson, in The New Yorker

 

Comments are closed.