The 37th summer of Shakespeare in Delaware Park will begin on Thursday with the cold, sarcastic lines of a power-hungry duke preparing to beat a bloody path to the throne.
"Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York," he says. "And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."
These famous opening lines belong to the title character of Shakespeare's "Richard III," one of the most devious and unsparingly violent creations in all of dramatic literature. They'll be delivered by company veteran Tim Newell in what is only the second production of Shakespeare's popular tragedy in SDP history -- and the first directed by company founder Saul Elkin.
Elkin said his decision to mount the show this season hinged largely on the participation of Newell, whose portrayal of the duplicitous Iago in a 2007 SDP production of "Othello" erased any doubt about his ability to sink his teeth into Shakespeare's most complex villains. As it was for Iago, the task of bringing Richard III to life requires not only a deep understanding of the complex motivations behind the aspiring monarch's extreme acts of violence, but also of the methods required to bring the audience along for the ride.
"As Tim Newell is playing him, I find myself laughing in rehearsal," Elkin said. "He has a kind of ironic, mordant wit, and I think the best Richards have always had that. The most recent film with Ian McKellan, it was fun to watch. It was also terrible to watch what he was doing. I'm having that experience with Tim Newell. In great measure, I'm doing this play to give Tim a crack at this role."
Part of the reason Elkin's company has only produced the show once before (in 1983) has to do with its complex ties to a period in English history that American audiences know little about. His solution, like that of other American directors of the play, has been to streamline the script by extricating certain historical characters and focusing on Richard's emotional and literal journey.
"What became important to me was not so much to do an historical play, but to do a play about greed and violence and the path that is taken by people whose greed leads them to commit terrible acts of violence," Elkin said. "So I focused on the character of Richard and his rise to the top by removing everybody in his path."
Though Elkin hasn't shifted the play's setting or inserted any modern updates in terms of dialogue, he has employed costumes (by Donna Massimo) based on the style of 1950s corporate America. This infusion of modern style, inspired by the AMC television show "Mad Men," is meant only as a subtle nod to the enduring relevance of the play's lesson about what makes the circles of power spin.
"I make no reference to 'Mad Men.' I think it's just there as an image," Elkin said. "If the audience wants to make connections between corporate violence and political violence, that's up to them."
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through July 15
WHERE: Shakespeare Hill, Delaware Park
INFO: www.shakespeareindelawarepark.org or 856-4533