Murder meets comedy

... plus politics: Shakespeare’s Elizabethan-era ‘Richard III’ stays relevant with look at human behavior

Contributing writerSeptember 28, 2012 

“Richard III” was at first called a tragedy, and these days, it’s typically classified as one of Shakespeare’s historical plays.

Scot Whitney, directing a version at Harlequin Productions that opens Thursday, begs to differ.

“I look at it, and that is ridiculous,” said Whitney, Harlequin’s managing artistic director. “What it really is is a comedy. It’s a satire.

“You have to cut the play — it’s one of Shakespeare’s longest plays — but it’s amazing how often the play is done, and they’ll cut all of the funny stuff. There is some crazy comedy.”

A black comedy, surely. “He murders everybody, including most of his family, to get to the top,” Whitney said. “It kind of reminds one of modern politics, although perhaps that’s not literal murder.”

Whitney cut about a third of the dialogue, compared with about a quarter for most of the bard’s work.

“I read the play over and over for months,” he said. “I feel like I understand a story that is trying to be told through me.

“This text will work differently on everybody who reads it.”

It seems clear that it said something rather different to Whitney. The traditional view of the play is that it’s a history of the last English king to die in battle.

Whitney declined to say how the play will be different from the traditional, offering only that the setting is “kind of Edwardian hospitalish” and that all of the murders happen on stage.

“I wield a chainsaw at one point,” Daniel Flint, who’s playing Richard, wrote in a Sept. 5 Facebook post.

The setting of the story doesn’t affect its inherent truth as an examination of human behavior, Whitney said.

“The great thing about Shakespeare is that he’s dealing with people and how they behave,” Whitney said. “What happens in a story is transferable to almost any time and any place. People haven’t changed.

“No matter when you do it, there’s some tie to whatever’s happening, because Shakespeare’s plays are about the stuff that happens constantly,” he said. “That’s why people are still doing them 400 years later. That and the fact that he was a genius.”

While Whitney compares Richard’s behavior to modern politics and to the actions of corporations — and while serial killers continue to make news and inspire dramas — there is an even more direct connection between Richard and current events.

The director has been posting articles on Facebook about the recent discovery in Leicester, England, of bones believed to be those of the king.

The discovery has reignited debate about whether Richard III really was the arch villain that Shakespeare and others depict. The director points out that Shakespeare followed English statesman Thomas More’s version of the story, and in any case, he was writing a play, not a history book.

“Shakespeare is not trying to convince anybody of history,” Whitney said. “It’s a satirical look at how politics and human behavior don’t mesh very well.” ‘Richard III’

What: Harlequin Productions presents a different take on Shakespeare’s tale of a murderous king.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday plus Oct. 5-6, 10-13, 18-20 and 25-27; matinees at 2 p.m. Oct. 7, 14 and 21

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $31 for adults, $28 for military and seniors, $20 for students. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the Oct. 10 performance, pay what you can.

Information: 360-786-0151,

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