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Shakespeare, illuminated and cut to the bone

In "R II," some of the Bard's most beautiful poetry is re-envisioned.

September 06, 2013|By Lynne Heffley
  • Paige Lindsey White, John Sloan and James Ortlieb at an early rehearsal of "R II" at Boston Court in Pasadena on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. The play is an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard II" as a three-character play.
Paige Lindsey White, John Sloan and James Ortlieb at an… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

The set isn’t finished. No costumes, no special lighting. Cables and portable fans litter the aisles. Actor John Sloan takes center stage and positions himself on a circular metal grid. Behind him and off to one side is a wooden throne mounted on a tiered platform; plain wooden risers flank either side of the stage.

At the Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena, director Jessica Kubzansky, Sloan and fellow cast members Paige Lindsey White and James Ortlieb are rehearsing “R II,” Kubzansky’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” premiering Sept. 14.

Conceived as a three-actor play, “R II” begins in Act V: The deposed king is in prison, stripped of his crown and of his identity as a monarch divinely chosen to rule. The metallic grid that Sloan stands upon represents both Richard’s prison and Shakespeare’s “hollow crown” (“…for within the hollow crown / That rounds the mortal temples of a king / Keeps Death his court….”). Lindsey White and Ortlieb are the imprisoned Richard’s thoughts.

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“Richard is looking back, wondering, ‘how the hell did I get here,’” said Kubzansky, Boston Court’s co-artistic director. She found inspiration for the play’s one woman, two-man adaptation partly, she said, in lines that Richard speaks in his isolation: “My brain I'll prove the female to my soul, / My soul the father, and these two beget / A generation of still-breeding thoughts....”

With Sloan in the title role, Lindsey White and Ortleib become “a construct of his brain,” Kubzansky said. Lindsey White plays Actor B. Her multiple roles include usurper Henry Bolingbroke, Queen Isabel, the Duke of Aumerle and other characters. As Actor C, James Ortleib portrays, among others, John of Gaunt, the Duke of York, Thomas Mowbray and the Earl of Northumberland.

“The whole thing is about essence,” Kubzansky said, “so it’s basically actors and text.”

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