Trouble is brewing at Fullsteam. On a quiet night at the Fullsteam Brewery , a gaggle of party girls saunters in, yelling and swearing. Dressed in high heels, leopardskin tights and fishnet stockings, they emanate a menacing energy and tension.
The conversation gets louder. Two factions emerge and a crowd forms a circle around the women. The Fullsteam patrons really start to pay attention when the shoving begins and the girls start screaming at each other in full Shakespearean dialogue.
Who are these crazy people?
Well, it turns out the feuding women arent drunken party girls. Theyre actors. The spectators in the circling crowd arent rubberneckers. Theyre the audience.
And the whole production is a scene from a wild and ambitious adaptation of Shakespeares Richard II.
Richie, as this version is officially called, is the latest production from Durhams Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern.
Its fair to say there have been some tweaks to the text. The setting has been moved from 14th century England to the party circuit of the modern-day Cannes Film Festival. The costumes have been updated, and roles have all been gender switched.
And rather than stage the drama in a theater, Richie is being performed as a Shakespearean pub crawl through downtown Durham. As the play progresses, scenes are staged inside and out of neighborhood bars and restaurants before landing in Durham Central Park. Royalty and celebrity
Director Jay OBerski was re-reading the original play when he hit upon the concept to stage Richard II as a parable of modern celebrity culture.
I knew we wanted to get back to Shakespeare, and I knew I wanted to do an all-female cast, said OBerski, an associate professor of theater at Duke University. When I read it again, I thought, This is about someone who is completely spoiled and incompetent, and who wakes up just before the end of the party.
I started thinking about parties and party girls Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears. And how we build these celebrities. We raise them up, tell them theyre amazing, and then we murder them.
Shakespeare is a famously adaptable playwright, of course, and modern interpretations of his work are nothing new. But Richie required a serious reboot.
The title role played by Dana Marks, who also teaches at Duke recasts King Richard as Richie, a doomed film starlet who is losing control of her entourage in the bright lights of Cannes.
In Richie, empires become entourages, and references to royalty and kings are replaced with words like celebrity and star. Court attire is switched to outrageous haute couture, designed by local Durham fashion designers. Goblets and swords become shot glasses and smart phones.
And then there are the practical concerns. The all-female cast must improvise their blocking from scene to scene, depending on crowd configuration and random downtown obstacles.
The play uses 15 different locations, including public outdoor spaces and five separate commercial venues. Entrances arent stage right or left. Theyre from across the parking lot, or the intersection.
We dont know exactly where were going to end up place to place, said performer Hope Hynes Love, who plays the role of Berzerker. We dont know whats going to happen in the moment with the audience. It really keeps you right on the edge. Theres an energy to it. You cant anticipate anything.Wristbands and disruptions
OBerski said precautions have been taken to keep the performers and the audience safe. Incognito security personnel will mix in with the stage entourage, and two crowd leaders wearing bright green cowboy hats will lead the audience from venue to venue.
Each night of performance, a temporary box office is set up in the Fullsteam bar and audience members are issued a wristband.
There are people in there with you to make sure you dont go out of bounds, OBerski said.
As for disruptions from the outside, OBerski said hes not worried.
These women get so crazy, they get so amped up, he said. Its not a bunch of pretty ladies mincing along. My tagline is, So much estrogen its testosterone. Because when they get into it, theyre terrifying.
During a recent run-through, the production moved from the venue to venue without a hitch. The theatrical company got a lot of curious stares, laughter and even some appreciative applause from patrons.
At Fullsteam, Duke graduate student Peter Lisignoli was having a beer and discussing his MFA project when the Richie performers launched a scene three feet from his table.
You cant help but pay attention to it, Lisignoli said, laughing. It was a little hard to follow, but you could make it out. It was a dispute between these women and their entourages, and it was clearly Shakespeare.
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