by Sergei Burbank · February 22, 2015
It is the way that its intimate scale and indie spirit come together to provide an ideal incubator for experimentation that make the FRIGID Festival worth returning to year after year. All that is required for a successful FRIGID show is a gem of an idea, and the commitment by a creative team to pull it off. Bloody Shakespeare’s latest offering in this year’s festival is another link in the chain.
With triple-casting and fierce condensing, Richard the Third and Goal, or, R3G imagines the plot of Shakespeare’s Richard III unfolding over the course of an American Football game, complete with pregame rituals, studio analysis, and sideline reporting. The conceit of Neal Freeman’s inventive script is that the non-Shakespearean text is composed nearly entirely of quotes by Ray Lewis. (For the uninitiated, Ray Lewis is a now-retired NFL middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who was present during a street brawl that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two men in 2000. He was convicted of obstruction of justice in relation to the subsequent investigation, but no one was ever prosecuted for the murders. His playing career continued for another 12 years after the incident.)
Freeman uses Lewis and Richard as apt, if warped, reflections of each other: setting aside the differences in scope and station, both are public figures who got away with murder; both are self-appointed leaders who claim to be mere tools for some mysterious divine purpose behind their ascension; and, finally, both are masters of the aside to the audience -- Richard through Shakespeare’s construction, and Lewis within the mock-revelatory media culture that surrounds professional sports, where players are expected to provide endless content to fill the hours between games on television and radio. Lewis’ media mastery and tireless -- some might say shameless -- eagerness to talk into the microphone provided a huge pile of interviews for Freeman to pull from, and pull he has.
The ensemble -- Patrick Toon as Richard, Minna Taylor and Montgomery Sutton as his allies/enemies in blindingly quick succession -- are delightfully committed to the show’s conceit, and deliver on its promise. The costuming convention -- a variation of Ray Lewis jerseys -- economically reflects the multiple-role / genre-meshing nature of the script.
This script would serve well anyone trying to introduce reluctant minds to Shakespeare: ably meeting the argument that the Bard’s language is too hard to understand, Freeman’s text pairs Richard III’s kinetic words with Lewis’ bloviating: while the latter might have claimed some kind of profundity under the glare of television lights in the context of a football broadcast, compared to Shakespeare, it is revealed as empty nonsense. Nevertheless, truly revelatory moments arrive when the shifts between Shakespeare and sound bites is not instantly apparent: we only realize that we’ve shifted from Shakespeare to Lewis after the shift has happened. It is a vertiginous, exhilarating ride, and well worth the trip.