Sometimes, the tale has the same characters and names but is told in different times and places. Case in point is the story of Richard III, king of England in the late 1400s. Richard’s story has been told — and, many say, exaggerated — since his death on a battlefield in Wales. The story of Richard was most famously told by William Shakespeare, whose adaptation is being re-adapted by Reno’s Brüka Theater beginning Saturday.
This time, the story is being told in modern times in the world of mobsters — an appropriate choice for a yarn about a man hell-bent on reaching the top of his world. To fully understand how this setting is appropriate for the story, a little background is in order.
The folks at SparkNotes summarize “Richard III” this way: “After a long civil war between the royal family of York and the royal family of Lancaster, England enjoys a period of peace under King Edward IV and the victorious Yorks. But Edward’s younger brother, Richard, resents Edward’s power and the happiness of those around him. Malicious, power-hungry, and bitter about his physical deformity, Richard begins to aspire secretly to the throne — and decides to kill anyone he has to in order to become king.”
Swap the crown with greased hair, the swords with guns and the leggings with pinstripe pants and “Richard III” is moved from a world of kings and queens to one of dons and capos.
The transition is a natural one for this story, actor Michael Peters said.
“It translates quite well because it is a story about a villain who intrigues to double cross other people and fight his way to top of the heap, which works itself well with mobster mentality,” said Peters, who plays numerous roles in Brüka’s “Richard III,” including Edward IV and assassin James Tyrrell. “Despite different affiliations within a mob, everybody is sort of out for themselves and they don’t mind killing people to advance themselves. … It plays very well in showing the ruthlessness of Richard III.”
This ruthlessness plays well in drama, though its historical accuracy is a matter of some debate. An informative introduction to the disparity between and controversy over the real life Richard III and his theatrical characterization can be found on the website of The Richard III Society, based in England, www.richardiii.net. Without a doubt many people died in the events leading up to and after Richard’s assumption of the throne, a post he occupied for only a short time before becoming the last king of England to die on a battlefield in 1485. However, according to The Richard III Society, there is much historical debate over Richard’s culpability in some of the deaths. For example, did he really kill his infant nephews in an effort to thwart any threats to his position? And did he poison his wife, Queen Anne, or did she die of a broken heart over the death of their son?
Simple speculation does not great drama make, however, and Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard is full of the king’s admitted crimes. Playing the role of Richard for Brüka will be Tom Plunkett, a longtime community theater actor who often can be seen rehearsing lines while working as a bell captain at the Cal Neva. He said this role has been the most intensive of his 30-some years of acting but that it is fun playing such a “wretchedly evil guy.”
“Nobody stands in his way on his way to the top,” Plunkett said. “Then, of course, he gets his just deserves in the end.”
“Richard III” plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, 28 and 29 and Feb. 3, 4 and 5. There will be a 7 p.m. showing on Sunday and a matinee showing at 2 p.m. on Jan. 30. Doors open half an hour before each show. Reservations are available through the Brüka box office by calling 323-3221. Box-office hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Individual tickets are $18 general admission, $16 for students and seniors and $20 at the door. Reservations are also available at the Melting Pot Emporium located at 1047 S. Virginia St. in Reno. Brüka validates parking at the Parking Gallery on First and Sierra streets. For more information, visit www.bruka.org.