FAU drama students wrap 2021-22 season with impressive performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’

In the years before the COVID pandemic, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for drama students at Florida Atlantic University to conclude their theatrical seasons with the production of a Shakespearean work.

Comedy reigned when FAU’s performing arts class brought down the curtain on the 2017-18 season with The Merry Wives of Winsor. The painful descent of King Lear into madness was recreated with aplomb during the final production of the 2015-16 season.

The always energetic and frequently whimsical students in FAU’s Department of Theatre and Dance revisit the Elizabethan era once again with an impressive performance of William Shakespeare’s intense tragedy, Richard III. The season finale concludes this weekend after opening to sparse audiences during the Passover and Easter holidays.

Director Lynn McNutt, an adjunct professor at the Boca Raton-based school, has assembled an immense cast along with lots of artisans and backstage workers to recreate the tragic tale of Richard III, one of the Bard’s longest and most gruesome tales. 

The cast features some stellar performances, among them, Steve Harding’s ruthless representation of the killer king; Eric Frederickson’s interpretation of the courageous but ultimately doomed Buckingham; Stephanie Young’s depiction of the true-to-the-bitter end lieutenant, Ratcliffe, and Noelle Nicholas’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, which excellently captures her emotional moods and bouts with angst. Seven of the 10 Master of Fine Arts grad students are in the play.

Steve Harding and Djimon Armani in Richard III, now at the Marleen Forkas Studio One Theatre at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. (Morgan Sophia Photography)

Richard III follows the events portrayed in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 3, which has been dubbed both a historical play as well as a tragedy.

Early on, we meet Richard of Gloucester (Harding), the brother of King Edward IV (Gus Garcia), who is fanatically determined to gain the crown of England for himself, no matter what the price. He slays at least one of his brothers, kills his two nephews after taking them prisoner in the Tower of London, poisons his wife, Anne (Djimon Armani) and pretty much lays waste to any opposition to his royal ascent.

While the famed Shakespearean play appears to have been written in as many as five acts, the show is pared down dramatically to a more manageable 2 ½ hours – including one intermission. 

Student performers move the action along by offering summaries of play details to help the audience understand what’s happening. They also use lineage charts posted on easels to explain the relationships among the many denizens of the two segments of the ruling Plantagenet family – the Yorks and the Lancasters – who are currently at war with each other.

In the original Shakespearean play, Richard was depicted as crippled and humpbacked. The FAU performance doesn’t deal much with Richard’s disabilities, though there are references in the dialogue. Besides, Harding’s top-notch performance and overall lack of scruples more than establishes the regal hopeful’s multitude of evils and basic sin-filled nature.

The addition of some contemporary storytelling touches – including a slow-motion battle scene on Bosworth Field which underscores the violence and ferocity of King Richard’s last-ditch battlefield clash – enliven a production that is otherwise a war of words.

The concluding slo-mo battle scene is particularly intriguing. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (John Dalton Logan), is the heir to the Lancastrian claim to the throne. He gathers an army in France to oppose Richard’s tyrannical reign. Their troops meet at Bosworth in Leicestershire for a major showdown. 

Scene from William Shakespeare’s Richard III, now at the Marleen Forkas Studio One Theatre at Florida Atlantic University. (Morgan Sophia Photography)

On the spooky night before the battle, the ghosts of his many victims haunt and curse Richard, who sleeps little during a fitful evening. The spirits also appear to Richmond but offer him blessings for luck in the coming fight.

Director McNutt offers a pithy assessment of the play without divulging the finale. “Like most storytellers, Shakespeare bends the facts to give us a dynamic cast of characters, fun plot twists, nail-biting intrigue and medieval battles. In the midst of the fun, he also astutely schools civilians on being vigilant to lies and corruption.”

This show is entertaining on several levels. Not only does the cast speak in virtually flawless Elizabethan English, they perform on a stage that’s an exceptional recreation of a Shakespearean village, thanks to the many artisans and production folks who’ve spent the better part of six weeks preparing the set.

The show also displays some of fight choreographer Lee Soroko’s most masterful moves. 

Richard III plays through April 24 in the Marleen Forkas Studio One Theater on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. Shows are on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.fauevents.com or by calling 561-297-6124.

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