Sunday, November 1, 2009

Alexandra Clement-Jones plays Richard II

Rude Mechanicals troupe takes a bow after Oct. 24, 2009 performance of Richard II.

The University of Michigan's student acting troupe, The Rude Mechanicals, presented Shakespeare's Richard II in October at the Duderstadt Center Video Gallery. I arrived to a chaotic scene with ticket sellers turning away disappointed students. I asked if they would seat non-ticket-holders for no-shows before curtain-time, but was told it was hopeless. The mother of student director Jim Manganello presented me with a ticket and I donated money for cookies for the cast in Oberon's name. I am so glad I didn't miss this magnificent production. 

120-150 patrons (estimated) were seated on risers on either side of a three-foot-high runway stage about 10 x 30 feet . (Measurements are guess-timates of size.) Sixteen- by four-foot-high screens hung behind both sets of audience risers showed projected images of moving humans and an industrial cityscape in black and white. Another block of 25 seats was placed in a view restricted space in front of the end of the stage to accommodate an overflow of patrons. Steel I-beams formed arches over the stage supported by flying buttresses. A large, carved-wood, pew-style bench sat at the far end of the stage.

The troupe of courtiers onstage dressed in dress pants, white shirts, and silk ties. They occasionally donned vintage tail coats or jackets. Cris Reilly played the King’s favorite  Green as an androgynous figure with long, luxuriant red curls like a Botticelli angel and effete gestures.

A woman dressed like the courtiers in pants and shirt entered upstage shrugging into a brocade gown. Courtiers addressed her as “my liege” and the female King Richard -- played with complete aplomb by Alexandra Clement-Jones -- emerged to our view. This elegantly regal creature with razor-edged diction and a muscular command of the stage inhabited the king with a strength that made gender superfluous.

Scenes developed with orchestral accompaniment like jazzy sound effects. Composer Marc LeMay conducted the ensemble of flute, keyboard, marimba, bass, and violin.

Director Jim Manganello played a commanding Lancaster. His brother Jon Manganello played Northumberland and brother Paul Manganello played his son, the younger Percy. The entire cast of nineteen actors performed with a commitment, passion, and clarity that was thrilling to experience.

Their stagecraft was superb. The death of Richard’s favorites was accomplished with intense music and an explosion of red paper that fell into the audience like gouts of blood. Choreographed movement throughout the play added to the sense of pomp and gravity. Performers leapt from the stage, using the space in front of the seats as a performance area as well.

I have seen the Royal Shakespeare, the Globe, the Guthrie, the Canadian Stratford, and various other fine companies, but this performance was by far the most clear, authentic and exciting Shakespearean experience I’ve ever had -- except for my very first time at age 15 seeing Julius Caesar at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). I’m beginning to think that only the young are passionate enough to fulfill Shakespeare.

I spoke to composer Marc LeMay after the curtain and asked if he would be interested in speaking to Oberon about their production and he graciously said he would be interested in doing that. I also asked about getting a copy of the recording taken of the performance and he seemed to think this would be possible, too. I long for that video. I wish everyone could have that experience.

The University Activities Center
4002 Michigan Union
530 S. State St. #541
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1349
(734) 763-1107
Producer Rebecca Noble:
Composer Marc LeMay:

Richard II cast:
Richard, Alexandra Clement-Jones
Lancaster, Jim Manganello
Bolingbroke, Max Kaufman
Mowbray/Carlisle, Josh Berkowitz
Aumerle, Andrew Whipple
Green, Kris Reilly
Bushy, Roderick Jefferson
Bagot, Sahib Singh
York, Daniel Rubens
Queen, Elise Randall
Northumberland, Manganello
Willoughby, Neal Kelley
Ross, Sanjay Jolly
Percy, Jon Manganello
Berkeley/Westminster, Arvind Namasivayam
Captain, Liam White
Ladies, Grace Hawkins and Mary Harrell
Gardiner, Sahil Saluja
Duchess of York, Kaela Parnicky

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