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BWW Interviews: Denise Devin on Researching RICHARD III for Zombie Joe's Underground

Zombie Joe's Underground is getting ready to open RICHARD III on May 10 and what a wild ride it promises to be. The North Hollywood theatre company has become well-known for its action-packed, explosive adaptations of Shakespeare's classics and director Denise Devin is having a field day doing the research on one of Shakespeare's greatest villains.

According to Devin, she is "trying to go with historically more accurate, age appropriate characters, (except the young princes), and remember the relationships they all had. So my Richard is only 31. There is no reference in the play as to age; it is just traditionally played older. But I am going with a Richard, who in real life died at 32."

She also plans to add in the prior relationships through directing, not script adds, and says she's found them to be "much more dysfunctional than any soap opera on television today. When I really dug into them, I couldn't quite believe it...and the human mistakes made."

What else did she find during her research? "Richard and Lady Anne did actually grow up together, and were initially betrothed to each other. She was then married off to Edward, so when they encounter each other in the play, they are not strangers, but two people who know each other well, and have a history. Perhaps even childhood sweethearts in their background. Perhaps Richard never forgave her marriage, even if she was forced into it. (We'll never know on that one), but it's such fun to ponder, and suddenly, the Lady Anne/Richard scene makes perfect sense."

Context also plays a big part in looking at the history of the play. "A lot of the historical facts would have been completely 'known' in Shakespeare's time," she says, "just as we, today, have great knowledge of our own civil war. We know Lincoln, Lee, Gettysburg, etc. No need to explain any of that in a play. And as it was an earlier play, Shakespeare did not 'genericize' anything.

For example, Mistress Shore just appears in the play, but in Shakespeare's time, everyone would have known completely who she was - especially since she lived to be quite an old lady. Did you know that Mistress Shore was the mistress of King Edward, and she was also sleeping with Hastings, King Edward's best friend, and Dorset, the son of King Edward's wife! And all around the same time. And it was known fact by many! Apparently she met Hastings first, and then King Edward, and then Dorset. How did she manage that?! And then she married someone else completely, later, and lived into her 80's. Sadly, I had to cut her out of this version, (she is a silent character and no one nowadays knows this about her), but this detail really helps establish some of the relationships and rivalries."

And what is her personal view of RICHARD III? "It is an amazing play! Even with the shorter version I am doing...that Shakespeare was some writer! There is such a richness of emotional and relationship detail; such an understanding of civil war, brother against brother, and how it destroys families, and kingdoms. And it has been, in many ways, the toughest one yet. I'm excited for audiences to see what we do with it."

Devin's cast includes W. Lochridge O'Bryan as Richard. He is a young actor, relatively new to the LA scene with a great deal of Shakespeare training and experience. Sarah Fairfax plays Queen Elizabeth (previously seen as ZJU's Gertrude in Hamlet and Leonata in Much Ado), Anna Gillcrist plays Lady Anne (new to ZJU). Tina Preston plays Margaret and the Duchess of York. Lee Kissman is Lord Stanley, Kirby Anderson plays Buckingham, Tyler McAuliffe plays Hastings and Richmond, and TJ Alvarado plays Rivers and Ratcliffe. Larray Grimes is Catesby and Josh Imlay plays Dorset and the Young Prince.

May 10 - June 16, 2013
ZJU Theatre Group
4680 Lankershim Blvd.
N. Hollywood, CA 91601
Reservations: (818) 202-4120
Fridays at 8:30 pm, Sundays at 7:00 pm

For more Los Angeles Shakespeare News follow @ShakespeareinLA on Twitter.

From This Author - Ellen Dostal

Ellen Dostal is currently the Senior Editor for BroadwayWorld/Los Angeles and a member of the prestigious Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. She has covered the performing arts community, jazz, and classical... (read more about this author)

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