Shakin’ Up Shakespeare
Posted February 24, 2006
Rhiannon Mim
Eli Hernandez (Richard) shares the bad news of a death in the family, while characters played by Ashley Miguel and Amy Oakes console Patrick Towles (King Edward). William Shakespeare’s “King Richard III” was in rehearsal for seven weeks for the senior directing thesis of Keith Watabayashi and the senior acting thesis of Hernandez. It was chosen by Watabayashi as a way to work center stage with the Shakespearean language.

The lights dimmed; the audience hushed. A nontraditional introduction to a classic play led with a modern twist.

Many seats were filled with an attentive audience for William Shakespeare’s play “King Richard III,” performed by the University’s department of theater arts in the Cabaret Theatre and was also the senior performance thesis of Eli Hernandez and directing thesis of Keith Watabayashi.

“For our senior projects I wanted to direct a play that would be centered around one character, which Eli would play,” Watabayashi said. “My love of Shakespeare led us to look at Shakespearean plays that would fit our idea, and Richard III was chosen.”

“King Richard III” is the last installment of a series of four plays that dramatize the English War of the Roses.

The play began with an interesting approach in which Watabayashi introduced the characters and set up the complex plot for those who were unfamiliar with it.

Instead of being told what to expect through a monotonous speech, they provided humor and life to the characters who were being performed.

Richard had his brother arrested and then killed. He manipulated situations to have Lady Anne marry him. Queen Margaret cast a curse upon the royal court and predicted who was murdered. The play was about Richard’s requirement to become king and how he utilized charm to wheedle his way to get what he wanted. There were character conflicts as well as internal conflicts.

It was obvious when viewed that Richard’s character held the play together and displayed a humanized villain, yet at times a victim.

“I needed a great character for Richard,” Watabayashi said. “Whoever was going to play Richard would be in nearly every scene, and before I could move forward I had to have an actor capable of carrying an entire Shakespeare production. Luckily I had Eli Hernandez, one of the department’s finest actors, willing and excited to play the part.”

The majority of the acting was excellent with few minor mistakes. Hernandez’s performance as Richard was believable and professional.

“I thought Eli did a tremendous job and didn’t break out of character,” Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Humanities Al Clark said.

“(At times) the acting was mixed; some were great and some weak. But it kept the (audience’s) attention through the two acts,” he added.

One of the theater’s design students, Jessica Garber, created and designed the simple setup for a stage that contained only a chair symbolizing the throne.

There were no elaborate costumes worn on stage that would have been worn in the time period of the play, but the modernized attire worked well.

“Costume decisions were largely put upon the cast; I told them to think of modern-day royalty and politicians, and then they brought their own clothes and ideas to the costumes,” Watabayashi said.

There was not a dull moment in the play. The lighting and sound effects created the mood. Gunshots and a frenzied battle scene became part of the action through these effects.

“I love Shakespeare,” said Ashley Beck, sophomore criminology major. “It was great to see it performed. I enjoyed the ending, especially when they used the red lighting in the dream sequence.”

A large portion of the audience was made up of drama students, family and friends in support of the cast, but there were some people there for the Shakespearean element.

“The moment that stands out with me is when Elizabeth, the Queen, argues with Richard about him marrying her daughter. I could feel the hatred and loathing from her,” ULV student Amanda Becker said.
The play was pure Shakespeare with a modern twist. The acting and directing theses were put together well.

Regardless of the audience’s familiarity to Shakespeare’s version of the play, the audience went home respecting the original work and the learning experience of the ULV theater department.

“The actors were wonderful and did a great job conveying the emotion behind the language,” Becker said.

Jaclyn Gonzales can be reached at

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